Is the student housing panic overblown?

By William Costley

An article published by Palatinate recently observed over 30 students camping outside letting agency JW Wood on Halloween, all eager to snap their desired home first, once the agency formally began the signing of contracts the next morning.

If you haven’t been living in a fantasy world where the Durham housing crisis hasn’t come up in regular conversation, this news would not come to you as a surprise, but perhaps trigger a fear that maybe you’re a little too late. Students camping outside letting agencies!? Watch out! If you haven’t signed your house by now, you can be certain the only property left for you and your friends is in Darlington. Wrong.

There are plenty of properties available.

You may not get your dream house with a dishwasher, a dryer, or every room decked out with a double-bed and en suite. You may not live right next to the science site and five minutes from Tesco. You may even suffer from having to walk more than 10 minutes to your friends’ place, but do not fear. The group of students camping outside one of the many agencies in Durham is nothing more than a frantic student trepidation.

One of the students quoted in the article admitted that they were “guilty of exacerbating the problem” but denied that the problem was entirely down to them. Additionally, two first-years were also camping outside, claiming that “the best houses would go quickly” and even though they thought it was “ridiculous” they were having to camp outside, it was ultimately “worth it.”

Was it? How can two first-years without proper knowledge of which parts of town are which, or which properties are best, become completely absorbed by the housing hysteria? It seems as though they are acting out of fear, being fed disquieted information that if they don’t sign something as soon as physically possible, they would have nowhere to live.

Although we are all guilty, and arguably powerless, of succumbing to the powerful market forces, the least we can do is try and defuse the hype to those coming in. Camping outside is not a good start.

It is without a doubt that there is some sort of housing problem in Durham. wrote for Palatinate in 2015 and underlined the soaring increase in rent prices, matching the levels of London costs. Therefore, it can be argued that there exist two types of housing crises.

Firstly, with regards to the students camping outside, it would seem as though there are simply not enough properties that can accommodate every student. However, stepping out of the campsite bubble, does this sound plausible? It could simply be the case that those specific students just don’t want to live in areas of Durham perceived to be too far from… well just too far in general.

Durham is a very small city and unfortunately students are senselessly willing to pay £15 more a week just to cut their commute by 5 minutes. The students are similar to die-hard fans waiting outside a concert venue so that they can get to the barrier first. Don’t let this fool you into being consumed by the dread of not signing a house; there will be a place for you.

What should be a concern is the rise in student rent, especially the relationship between what you pay for and what you get. Landlords are getting away with charging students hundreds of pounds for small shared houses, usually with one shower room and a small kitchen. Landlords are going unchecked and lacking responsibility for taking care of their tenants.

One student, who wished to be unnamed, discussed how on £138/week, she was greeted with mould on the ceiling.

Additionally, there seems to be a lack of communication between the university, the letting agencies, and the landlords. Although the students outside JW Wood are the extreme version of the competitive Durham housing market, that is not to say that students aren’t worried and pressured into finding a house for next year so early on. By
advertising and giving into landlord’s demands for their properties to be put up early, students have no choice but to start looking now.

Furthermore, with the university opening a new college, and increasing their accommodation prices without much scrutiny, prices will continue to go up as demand outweighs supply. Agencies need to come together and develop a common policy that releases properties in an organised and distributive manner. Furthermore, the university is at fault for inadequately supporting students and simply letting them go to such extremes such as waiting out in the cold for overpriced accommodation.

Image by Jaggery via Creative Commons

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