Students at Durham University have been forced to sleep rough to secure accommodation for the 2023-2024 academic year.
Hundreds of students began queuing outside rental agents to secure homes that had been put on the rental market for next September.
The race to find accommodation started a year in advance, with one rental agent saying returning students have been asking for rentals for October 2023 since June 2022.
A huge queue, which was seen on Monday, arose after they let agent Frampton & Roebuck post all of their properties for 23-24 on the market at once.
In the queue, some students said they walked straight out of the clubs to join them, while others listened to early lectures on their laptops while waiting for a chance.
One group told The Northern Echo they joined the queue at 5am but had yet to secure any property.
They said: “We signed our fifth option without being able to see it, but when we went there were so many problems with the house that we were back to square one.”
Over the past few weeks, students have reported seeing homes with no toilet seats, with black mold covering the walls, or with parts of the ceilings collapsed.
“We went to see a house that cost over £180 per person per week, and one of the bedrooms was so small we couldn’t open the door fully,” the band said.
A large proportion of the students currently looking for accommodation are freshmen, having arrived in Durham just three weeks ago.
One said: “The atmosphere in Durham has totally changed today, everyone seems panicked and anxious.
“People are looking at rosters at conferences and in the college dining hall — that’s all everyone will talk about. There’s a lot of pressure to find people I want to live with.”
Students believe the root of this problem is two-fold – first, the number of students is simply too high for the number of rental properties on the market.
Rex Munson, chairman of the junior common room at St Mary’s College, said: “The current second year is the biggest year Durham has had, and student numbers are higher than the university would like. ”
For many, it is clear that this large cohort is taxing Durham’s resources.
The idea that Durham is overcapacity is echoed by students, locals and letting agents.
A lettings agent explained: ‘Durham Council will only let around 10% of houses in a certain area be converted into student accommodation – so we have no properties left.’
Asked about it, Mary Foy, Labor MP for Durham, said: ‘This is just ridiculous. The housing market just isn’t working for residents or students in our town.’
Meanwhile, students are keen to secure properties early as they understand the cheapest properties are likely to be bought quickly – meaning those wanting to pay less than £850/month need to act quickly.
Speaking to The Northern Echo, many students said they felt landlords were “inflating prices” and believed landlords were taking advantage of low accommodation capacity.
Durham Student Union agrees with this assessment – their president, Joe McGarry, said: “There is a housing crisis in Durham. Students looking for accommodation at this time know that the cost and availability homes means they may not be able to find affordable housing.”
“Durham has too many students for the size of the city, and there is not enough planning. The University has a responsibility to the students it recruits and admits, and has a duty of care to the students , whether they live in university-run accommodation or not.”
In 2020-21 properties in Moatside Mews, a popular street behind the castle, could cost students around £113-£120. If students want to live there for the 22-23 academic year, they will have to pay between £184 and £199.
A letting agent justified this increase in rents by saying that it was in line with inflation and rising bills. However, to justify this increase, inflation rates would have to be above 60%, otherwise a five-bed household would have to use £1,380 of utilities each month.
A Durham University spokesperson said: “We work hard to support our students in both academic and non-academic areas, including working with the Durham Students’ Union and student leaders where appropriate.”
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