The student population of the city is a driver, though not the only one, behind the conversion of traditional housing, previously occupied by families, into HMOs: a significant contribution to the increasing imbalance and loss of social capital in so many of our neighbourhoods.

The extent to which this change has continued is illustrated by data showing that in the period 2006/2007 to 2010/2011 the number of students seeking accommodation in the city increased from 33,9767 to 40,615, whilst the number of purpose-built bed spaces only rose from 13,882 to 15,218, leading to an additional demand of 5,312 bed spaces in private rented flats or houses.

However, as intimated, students are by no means the only demographic or socio-economic group driving the creation of HMOs (shared houses), and their impact on the housing market should not be looked at in isolation.

The HMO market is already a source of accommodation for a variety of different groups, e.g. so-called ‘young’ professionals (graduate and non-graduate), migrant workers, asylum seekers.

It can only be supposed (and projections support this) that proposed changes in housing benefit legislation, high property prices and difficulties in obtaining mortgages (which mean that more and more young people find themselves unable to get a foot on the housing ladder until at least their mid-thirties) will increase the demand for rented accommodation, HMOs in particular.

Neither should it be assumed that in Nottingham, where we have two very successful universities, increases in tuition fees will result in reduced student intake, and reduced demand for off-campus homes.

Of late, there has been a developing trend for some landlords and agents to talk about ‘professionals, ‘medics’ and ‘nurses’ living in HMOs and to intimate that somehow the issues around HMOs are confined to those properties occupied by student. Because of the similarities in profile, especially demographic, and the short-term nature of the tenancies, though very different in some ways from student tenants and the student market, HMOs catering for these groups can (and local experience supports this) and do have a similar impact on the neighbourhoods around them.

Therefore, planning and housing policies concerning HMOs should be focused on HMOs as a form of tenure, regardless of the nature of the occupants.

The consultation stage of Nottingham’s draft housing strategy (the Housing Nottingham Plan) highlighted the importance of ensuring that the Council (as the authority with direct responsibility for housing and planning) delivers housing choices to a range of different groups. This is a laudable ambition and not one that the NAG would want to challenge.

Indeed a good part of the NAG’s effort in responding to the Council’s consultations on housing and planning matters has been directed towards suggesting ways in which these ambitions can be achieved through appropriate utilization of existing housing, which may include, in addition to newly-built housing: 

  • return to family use of HMOs, 
  • adapting existing residential housing which is not likely to meet the requirements of modern families to provide a choice of accommodation for individuals or groups not necessarily seeking family-type housing, 
  • adapting and recommissioning unwanted commercial and industrial buildings to provide cluster flats and/or apartments.

However, there is a challenge which needs to be made here on behalf of the residents in our neighbourhoods who, by and large, feel that their choices are increasingly less important than those of the owners and users of HMOs, and that the impact that HMOs have on the balance and vitality of the neighbourhoods in which they live is increasingly excluding them and their families from enjoying the very things that made them choose to live where they do.

No doubt the reasons they chose to live in these neighbourhoods are many and varied, but there is a common thread that runs through all of them, encapsulated in their own words in back issues of the magazine. Some of these are re-printed here:

  • ‘... a pleasant place to live’;
  • ‘... a beautiful, leafy quiet neighbourhood so near the city centre’;
  • ‘... a pleasant, tree-lined road … with multi-racial and multi-aged family units with all the usual amenities and facilities in place’;
  • ‘What we really wanted was a house we could call home, not too far out of the city and within our limited budget’;
  • ‘... we had been searching for a traditional, well-built family house. It was wonderful when we secured our property in what, then, was a residential oasis. A good place to live’;
  • ‘The surrounding properties were all family dwellings. Some of the families had children of much the same age as our own. Friendships formed very quickly and it was indeed very enjoyable to live here’;
  • ‘There was a strong feeling of community and the neighbourhood  had a pleasant ambiance’;
  • ‘Properties were well maintained, gardens well cared for and well stocked and it felt good to be living here’;
  • ‘She always had time for a gossip over the hedge or a cup of tea … her beautiful garden meant everything to her and was always kept immaculate. The same applied to the couple on the other side of me – quiet people, very private, but with a deep love of their garden;’
  • ‘... this neighbourhood has traditionally attracted professional people working in the city. Although it is close to main roads, our cul-de-sac has a quiet, residential setting’;
  • ‘This area was once very pleasant, suitable for small families, children and disabled people’;
  • 'I am told that [this] was once an area full of residents who looked out for each other. The ones that remain or who have recently moved out have given me a taste of that’.

[Based on extracts from NAG submissions made in 2011 to consultations on Nottingham's Housing Strategy 2012-2015 & the LAPP DPD, first published in TransNAG, January 2010-March 2012,  Part II, p.35, 2012]