Annual Durham ritual: Flocking to real estate agencies and fighting for accommodation

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So, what are you guys doing for housing next year?’ From the second my housemates and I unlocked the door of our second year house, it appeared this question would stalk us around campus and haunt every conversation we had. The smuggest I encountered had already signed with a private landlord their brother, sister, friend, mother, aunty, or grandma had some tenuous link to. Others already knew exactly which house they wanted and were prepared to fight off all competition with the longest metaphorical machete that one can yield. However, for the majority (myself included), hours spent on StuRents and seemingly endless tours around rundown, minorly mouldering properties, for what landlords were claiming was the bargain price of £200 per week, had left us dejected and wondering how easy the daily commute from Newcastle or Sunderland might be. 

It was the panic induced by this series of failed viewings and thrice being beaten to signing any remotely viable property that left me and two of my housemates sat on a bench outside Frampton and Roebuck at 5am. As the rain further dampened our spirts, we found ourselves wondering if we had truly gone insane for voluntarily putting ourselves through this. However, this is the unfortunate reality of the Durham Student Housing Crisis, a process we felt we had absolutely no choice but to participate in. As morning broke, we were joined by an upsetting, but not surprising horde of equally desperate students. As I sat and listened to the different groups interact, I was shocked by quite how cutthroat the collective attitude was. No one wanted to reveal what property they were here to sign at the risk of being undercut. I witnessed many subtle and not so subtle acts of manipulation as everyone, from total strangers to friends from the same colleges and courses tried and failed to extract house names and group sizes from one another.

At 7:30am the first of the estate agents arrived at the office, just as disappointed we were there as we were to be there. He begged us to make a return to our respective accommodations. Despite his pleas we all knew the queue would be there whether we were in it or not, consequently leaving us unmoved in our position waiting for that elusive drop of houses. By 9am many members of the ever-growing queue were missing lectures, seminars, focus groups, meetings and if nothing else, valuable hours of sleep. The laissez-faire attitude to missing these academic commitments highlighted quite how important finding a viable house is to the student body and showcased the extent to which this quest had dominated our time during these crucial first weeks of term. 

As a first year I found settling into Durham extremely challenging, and the addition of the insistent pressure to sign a house with people I had known a mere three weeks did not ease this process in the slightest. Talking to the first years that joined me in the queue for housing this year showed me that the stress that I felt has related exactly onto those in the year below. This panic-inducing process leaves many trapped in contracts with people they grow to dislike and can leave you feeling immense anxiety if you do not believe you have found friends for life at an unnaturally fast pace. To a certain extent I felt lucky this year as I had my closest friends at my side, and we could navigate the horror of the process together. However, after the extensive media outrage that followed the housing crisis of 2022, I was hoping to see the process significantly ease this year, but the situation I found myself in once again proved it was no different. 

Finding housing should not dominate the first weeks of term in quite such debilitating way

Finding housing should not dominate the first weeks of term in quite such a debilitating way. It leaves many finding themselves struggling both academically and mentally in the face of the mixture of settling into a new year of university and navigating a rental market with prices that now rival London. The mutually damaging cycle of doom that appears to have both students and landlords trapped must begin to be broken as the need for later property releases and a lowering of Durham’s extortionate rents has reached a critical point.

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