What is a HMO?
Local HMO Plans
Ten Point Plan
Leeds HMO Lobby
Use Classes Order
Taxation of HMOs
Students & Community
National HMO Lobby
Accounting for Sustainability
1 Sustainability Sustainability is (virtually)
universally acknowledged as an essential principle of any human
activity. It is acknowledged nationally and internationally: the
UK government has a website devoted to sustainable
development, and creating sustainable communities is
the motto of the Office
of the Deputy Prime Minister (which offers a definition of ‘sustainable
community’); the European Union recommends sustainability,
for instance through the European Sustainable Cities Report.
In Higher Education in the UK, sustainability is acknowledged: in
2000, the HE Funding Councils of the UK established the Higher Education
Partnership for Sustainability (HEPS), and in 2003, the DfES published
a Sustainable Development
Action Plan. Regardless of government policy, local communities
have always sought sustainability, explicitly or implicitly; throughout
the UK, local community associations almost automatically emerge
when a community perceives its sustainability to be under threat
(Leeds HMO Lobby, and its fellow members of the National HMO Lobby,
are such associations).
1.1 Higher education institutions (HEIs) are always
quick to draw attention to the positive contribution they make to
the sustainability of the community. Universities UK has calculated
the overall impact of the HE sector on the UK economy (UUK, The
impact of HEIs on the UK economy, 2002). And the University
of Leeds, for instance, notes that it is ‘one of the largest
employers in the city, with 7,500 employees’ (UL, Housing
Strategy, 2004, p2). However, such estimates overlook two issues.
First of all, HEIs also make negative contributions to sustainability
(they undermine it) – for instance, through the impact of
their clientele, their students, on the character and amenity of
neighbourhoods. And secondly, benefits and costs are not evenly
spread, geographically – while a university may benefit a
city as a whole, its costs may be borne by a very localised neighbourhood;
in such local cases, the costs may far outweigh the benefits.
1.2 Communities always aspire to sustainability,
whether or not they articulate this explicitly – they seek
to flourish in ways which they can maintain. Community associations
arise when this aspiration is frustrated - stadium campaigns and
airport campaigns are examples, and so are the National HMO Lobby
and its member groups, including Leeds HMO Lobby. These Lobbies
were established to sustain their communities in the face of the
detrimental impact of concentrations of HMOs (houses in multiple
occupation) – principal instances of which are the shared
houses of students attending HEIs [the Lobbies’ aims and actions
are described on this website].
2 Accounting The conflict of interest between
HEIs and their neighbouring communities has often led to quite bitter
campaigns (because of the imbalance of power) by those obliged to
live ‘in the shadow of the ivory tower.’ However, a
shared concern for sustainability may provide an escape from the
impasse. In particular, the publication by HEPS, Accounting
for Sustainability: Guidance for Higher Education Institutions
(Forum for the Future, 2003) perhaps offers a level playing field,
on which reconciliation might be achieved (in the spirit of co-operative
rather than competitive recreation): “the purpose of this
publication is to provide an introduction to techniques that enable
non-financial (i.e. environmental and social) considerations to
be integrated into traditional financial accounts” (p3). In
his Foreword, Sir Howard Newby notes “the objective is to
give a clear and complete picture of the real costs and benefits
arising from decisions about allocating resources – financial,
human or physical ... higher education will need to be seen to be
responding to a wide range of stakeholders on its sustainability
2.1 Accounting for Sustainability identifies
a number of ‘tools’ for understanding sustainable development
(pp15-21). On the one hand there is the ‘triple bottom line’
of environment, society and economy.
These are further un-packed as five ‘capitals’ (or stocks
of resources), namely the natural (the ecology), the human
(knowledge, etc), the social (communities, etc), the manufactured
(structures) and the financial (money). On the other hand
are the three manifestations of a HEI – as a centre
for learning, as a business in its own right, and as a
key member of a community. “Using the five capitals
on one axis, and the three manifestations of a university on another,
it is possible to map what the institution is doing to maintain,
ideally enhance, but certainly not erode each of the five capitals”
(p18). This provides a Sustainability Appraisal Grid (Fig 3, p19)
with fifteen cells [Appendix, Table A]. “Completing and regularly
revising a Sustainability Appraisal Grid is a useful starting point
for a university or college that is considering using sustainability
accounting techniques” (p18).
2.2 Accounting for Sustainability also
identifies a number of ‘concepts and principles’ of
sustainability accounting (pp22-35). These consist especially of
the three dimensions of the Sustainable Accounting Cube (Fig 5,
# The first dimension is the timing of impact,
that is in terms either of stock (the state of the stock
of goods and services at a moment in time) or of flow (goods
and services arising over a period of time).
# The second dimension is the location of impact,
internal (already within the financial accounts) or external
(outside the traditional boundaries).
# The final dimension is the type of impact, that
is whether it is environmental or social or economic
(or natural, human, social, manufactured or financial).
Traditional accounting encompasses only a fraction of the scope
proposed by sustainable accounting (Fig 6, p23).
3 Mapping These tools and concepts provide a framework
for the sustainability concerns which are common to HEIs and their
local communities. HEIs and their local communities have a shared
interest in the HEI’s impact as a member of that community
on all forms of local capital, the environmental, the human, the
social, the manufactured and the financial.
3.1 The National HMO Lobby has identified fifteen
effects of the presence of a HEI – or more specifically,
of its clientele, its students. These fall into two groups [Appendix,
3.1.1 The first group comprises the increase of
problems in a community, environmental, social and economic. The
environmental problems include increased waste, increased
degradation (of buildings and gardens) and increased street
blight. The social problems include increased antisocial
behaviour, increased crime (especially burglary) and
thus increased insurance costs. The economic problems include
distorted retail, fluctuating markets and casualised
employment. Impacting across the board are transport problems
(increased parking especially) and increased demand
on public services.
3.1.2 The second group of symptoms consists of
the decline of the community itself – the decline of the numbers
of residents, the decline of their social networks, and
the decline of their morale. All are exacerbated by the
decline of schools and similar supporting services.
3.2 The Lobby’s fifteen effects may be mapped
onto the fifteen cells of the Sustainability Appraisal Grid, in
particular cells 3, 6, 9, 12 and 15 [Appendix, Table C]. This is
where sustainability is eroded. This is where account must be taken
of the negative impact of a HEI on sustainability.
4 Costing Some of the impacts of a HEI are readily
costed (such as local cleansing costs). Some impacts are measurable,
but difficult to cost (such as burglary rates). And some of the
effects are hard even to measure (such as the loss of community
4.1 The increase in problems of a community
(3.1.1 above) are mostly tangible, and therefore mostly readily
measured. These impacts comprise the following.
i. waste increase: problems of normal waste disposal, of
recycling, of large waste, of street cleansing, of garden clearing,
and so on; Refuse and Highways Departments could provide cleansing
costs for most of these.
ii. degradation increase: both neglect of houses and their
gardens, and also loss of character through inappropriate development
of buildings and hard-surfacing of gardens; a formula might be devised
for the reparation of the former, but the latter is hard to measure,
let alone cost.
iii. street blight increase: the impact of letting boards
and security grilles, of flyposting and graffiti; removal of the
latter can be costed, but again, the impact of the former on the
character of the area is hard to measure (as is taxi disturbance,
another blight on the street).
Note on (i-iii): the costs of tackling increased squalor
include not only the investment of public resources, but also the
voluntary (unpaid) efforts of both residents and students.
iv. antisocial behaviour increase: endemic low-level ASB,
like noise nuisance, minor vandalism and evacuation (rather than
serious ASB); the effect is all too tangible, it can be monitored,
but it is hard to cost.
v. crime increase: primarily burglary, which is measured
by crime statistics, and presumably could be costed, both in terms
of police time and of property stolen.
vi. insurance increase: the insurance industry could presumably
provide data on increased premiums for houses, contents and vehicles
in specified postcodes.
vii. retail distortion: orientation towards a very specific
market, manifest in the particular range of lines in shops, and
the range of retail outlets (especially increased numbers of pubs,
take-aways and letting agencies); the impact of the market is aggravated
when rent rises force out other enterprises.
viii. market fluctuation: enormous fluctuation between
heavy demand during term, and minimal demand during vacation.
ix. employment casualisation: local employment becoming
increasingly seasonal (term) and part-time (evening).
Note on (vii-ix): such local economies are effectively
‘resort economies’, with a number of peculiar characteristics:
they are ‘hermetic’ (both patronised and serviced almost
exclusively by the student population); they depend on a continuous
externally supplied market; and their profits are largely exported
(rather than locally circulated). This entails a significant cost
to the local economy.
x. parking increase: car use is measurable; in Leeds, one
study has shown that car ownership in student households is two-and-a-half
times the norm for the city. This raises health & safety issues
(obstruction of pavements for pedestrians, and of access by cleansing
and emergency vehicles), as well as communication problems (access
by residents, and the passage of public transport).
xi. demand increase: this includes not only the direct
costs of disproportionate demands on public services like cleansing
and policing, housing and planning, but also indirectly the drain
of resources away from provision in other areas[and neither students
nor landlords pay Council Tax or Business Tax].
4.2 The decline of the community (3.1.2
above) is quite intangible, and not readily measured at all. As
Accounting for Sustainability suggests (p30) such matters
are perhaps “beyond value”. This impact comprises the
xii. numbers decline: student demand gives rise to high
property prices and low amenity (4.1), encouraging emigration and
making immigration almost impossible, with the result that there
are fewer elders (retaining past memories), fewer adults (present
activists) and fewer children (the community’s future).
xiii. networks decline: most owners and occupiers are absentees
(hence disengaged), the young and the old especially are isolated
(losing their peers), and the neighbourhood loses its social capital
or ‘community spirit’ (its social networks, social norms
and social sanctions).
xiv. morale declines: deep and rapid changes are felt acutely:
the population imbalance itself is stressful (public oppression,
private isolation), the declining amenity is alienating (fear of
crime, revulsion from squalor, exclusion by the economy), and residents
feel anger and despair at their disempowerment.
xv. schools decline: the services which support the community
(especially primary schools, also colleges, evening classes, churches,
clubs for the young, etc) decline and even close.
4.3 Most impacts in 4.1 can be measured, and many
costed. A few cannot – and nor can any in 4.2. These may be
“beyond value” (monetary, at least). However, there
are valuation techniques available. The United Nations recommends
avoidance and restoration values (Accounting for
4.3.1 Avoidance values These are what
it would cost (or does cost) to avoid a detrimental impact (for
instance, avoiding carbon dioxide emissions). The principal cost
that can be identified in avoiding negative impacts by HEIs is the
time this soaks up. A principal element of this time is
the hours dedicated by local community campaigners to organising
campaigns, organising meetings, attending meetings, circulating
information, writing objections, responding to consultations, and
so on. (Leeds HMO Lobby is an example, but its efforts are duplicated
up and down the country.) Some HEIs employ Community Liaison Officers
(with salaries); whether they do or not, other staff are drawn into
dialogue, negotiation and planning. (The University of Leeds has
a Community Projects Officer, a Neighbourhood Helpline, a Housing
Strategy, and is consulting on a Community Strategy.)
Local authorities bear responsibility for resolving local problems:
members and officers devote time to addressing these; in addition,
many authorities have conducted studies of the impact of HEIs locally,
and have established fora to develop local strategies. (Leeds City
Council has established a Student Housing Project Group, devised
a Shared Housing Action Plan, convened a Community &
HE Forum, and so on.) Student volunteers spend time on the effects
of the impact. (In Leeds, they have set up the LS6 Project.) At
one level, much of this time is spent fire-fighting. But at a strategic
level, it is invested in attempting to resolve – hence avoid
– the deeper issues. (In addition to local actions, national
initiatives also absorb effort, like the National HMO Lobby, the
Unipol conference Students, Housing & Community, and
UUK’s Students & Community research [which reportedly
cost £30,000].) This time could be calculated and costed.
4.3.2 Restoration values These consist
of what it would cost to restore an unsustainable situation (for
instance, restoring contaminated land). In the case of the negative
impacts of HEIs (and especially the decline of communities), essentially
these arise from demographic imbalance (the substitution of a stable,
general local population by a transient, seasonal and very particular
population). This comes about largely by the change of use of family
homes into student HMOs. In a free market, this is impossible to
avoid: groups of students are prepared to pay upwards of £50
per week for a room each; with this return in mind, landlords are
able to far outbid family purchasers, when homes come onto the market.
House prices are rapidly inflated. The incentive of these prices,
and the disincentive of declining amenity, encourages further change
of use. The restoration cost of the fundamental sustainability problems
of HEIs would be the cost of re-purchasing houses, to restore them
to family occupation. The National HMO Lobby estimates that the
tipping-point for sustainability problems for a community comes
when students exceed 20% of the population. Since the average occupancy
of HMOs is twice that of the average single household, this is approximately
equivalent to a tipping-point of 10% of HMOs in an area. (This is
also the normal proportion of privately rented housing in a neighbourhood.)
In principle therefore the restoration value of an unsustainable
community is the cost of restoring the housing balance. [Leeds HMO
Lobby puts the restoration value of Headingley at somewhere near
a half £billion.]
5 Accounting for Sustainability Accounting
for Sustainability notes “Environmental accounting has
been under development for much longer so it can refer to a scientific
validated baseline against which restoration and avoidance costs
may be measured. However, a similar scientifically rigorous approach
to social impacts (positive or negative) is in its infancy. For
instance, there will be different views about how best to define
acceptable (i.e. baseline) blight from close proximity to student
accommodation. Nevertheless, work on metrics for accounting for
social costs and benefits is underway, and universities, as institutions
with major social as well as environmental and economic impacts,
have an opportunity to contribute greatly through developing and
trailing them (academically, as well as practically)” (p30).
The National HMO Lobby intends this Discussion Document to be a
modest contribution to the development of sustainability accounting
by HEIs. For sustainability is the desired goal of HEIs and local
communities alike. Local community associations, who comprise the
National HMO Lobby, are pleased to recognise the contributions made
to sustainability by the universities of the UK. But by the same
token, the Lobby expects these universities to acknowledge their
detrimental impacts, those effects which erode sustainability. HEPS’s
Accounting for Sustainability provides a framework for
them to do so. The National HMO Lobby calls on the universities
of the UK to take full account of their consequences (both positive
and negative) for the sustainability of their host communities.
Table A: Sustainability Appraisal Grid
|S. A. G.
Table B: Fifteen Effects of HEIs
Increase of Problems
Decline of Community
Table C: HEI Sustainability Appraisal
|S. A. G.
“Everything can be measured, and what gets measured gets managed,”
McKinsey & Co.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything
that counts can be counted,” Albert Einstein.
National HMO Lobby
This Discussion Document was submitted to the Higher
Education Funding Council for England on 21 August 2008, in response
to HEFCE's consultation on Sustainable
Development in Higher Education (2008/18).
National HMO Lobby