Mel Plant, BA Arabic and Turkish
Sanctuary Students, the company contracted to manage SOAS’ private-student halls Dinwiddy and Paul Robeson, has stirred the feelings of the Students’ Union yet again as they unveiled the product of their new renovations, a ‘large studio’ in Dinwiddy which are priced at £245 per week. Standard single en-suite rooms in the halls, in flats shared with various numbers of students, are already priced at £149.64 a week, an unaffordable price for many students. The Dinwiddy halls and their management by Sanctuary were wracked by complaints last year, as reported cockroach and mice infestations, water disruptions and frequent disturbances in access to the building for disabled residents reached a bottleneck in spring, prompting a rent strike by 163 residents.
Though Sanctuary Housing Association, the parent company of Sanctuary Students, is a not-for-profit organisation which aims to provide ‘good quality, affordable homes’ for a ‘wide range of people’ in the UK, its subsidiary targeting students is a for-profit company with rents that ‘stretch students’ budgets to breaking point’, says Tom King, SOAS Students’ Union Co-President for Welfare and Campaigns. King, having been shown the new ‘large studio’ by on-site staff, described it as a small studio flat, in which the size of the bathroom does not differ from the size of that in Dinwiddy’s standard single en-suite rooms. King also described the layout of the room, commenting that ‘little thought’ seems to have been put into its design, with a table set in the middle of the room blocking space, a fridge-freezer located next to the bed and a chest of drawers in the kitchen, adding that ‘in the room [he] visited, the wardrobe had been assembled with the doors on upside down.’
Though only one flat has been affected by the new renovations, students living in Dinwiddy’s standard rooms have seen rent increase year after year, and this most recent change to the available accommodation at Dinwiddy was conducted without consultation with SOAS or the Students’ Union. Considering the rent strike that erupted last year over the supposed poor quality and over-priced lodging available at Dinwiddy, Tom King expressed disappointment that Sanctuary failed to notify the Students’ Union, who supported SOAS students in their rent strike during last term, of a price increase in official SOAS housing. Describing the studio rooms as ‘completely unaffordable to the vast majority of students’, King doubted that ‘they are remotely good value for money’, especially considering that halls offering accommodation at similar rents have a far greater standard of housing, incorporating other spaces in addition, such as communal living areas and gyms. In charge of representing the welfare of students at SOAS through the platform of the Students’ Union, King also mentioned that he had already received his first complaint of cockroaches present in Dinwiddy. Failures in communication last year led to Sanctuary being forced to hand out thousands of pounds in compensation. With this news before the academic year has begun, it is hard to predict whether next year will be any different.