‘The rents keep on rising and so will we’

Reflections on the 2021 Rent Strike at Sussex University

Roseanne Steffen, Billie Krish, Daisy Handscombe, Haris Jamil, Michele Lancione, Samantha Thompson

Published in Issue 4.1 // Conversations

Keywords: Student housing, rent strike, digital organising, archiving resistance


In January 2021, over 700 students living in the UK’s University of Sussex accommodation withheld their rent in defiance of the unacceptable conditions of housing and unreasonable rent prices. Primarily, this was a reaction to their anger and upset at how Sussex had falsely assured them that, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they should expect a normal student experience. However, the rent strike action also needs to be contextualised within an understanding of how the neoliberalization of higher education has led to a situation of low quality but high rent student accommodation across the UK – and how students have been fighting back. The following discussion looks at the position of student renters in a higher education system driven by market forces; the implications of your university simultaneously being your landlord; and the extraordinary conditions which led to the rent strike at Sussex. While students at Sussex showed the power of collective action in forcing the University to eventually concede to some of the strike’s demands, this article also highlights the unprecedented struggles the movement faced in light of the pandemic. For a movement so reliant on reaching out and mobilising students, the Sussex Rent Strike also provides student and housing activists a useful understanding of both the advantages and limits of digital organising.


Roseanne Steffen is a community organiser who is recovering from illness and has a long history of student activism. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she was the elected Student Living and Sustainability officer at the University of Sussex Students’ Union and helped form the Sussex Renters Union (SRU). She is on twitter @roseannesteffen. Billie Krish is a second-year student at Sussex who also comes from a background in community organising. He joined the SRU shortly after arriving at Sussex and was active in the coordination of the rent strike campaign which took place in 2021. He is on twitter @BillieKrish. Daisy Handscombe is a renter and activist. Haris Jamil is an international student at the University of Sussex. Michele Lancione and Samantha Thompson are editors of the Radical Housing Journal. 


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