Student housing: it isn’t over when you sign

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Having dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s in their housing application, many Durham students feel that their housing woes are now over. They’ve succeeded in finding a decent property to share with newfound friends, at an acceptable price. Sadly, this is not always the case.

Around 2.6% of new students in Durham drop out, according to the 2009-10 survey by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. This is a figure inclusive of first years and second years. It appears that despite being at Durham for over a year, there is still a risk that a second year housemate may be lost.

One student said “[my friend] decided that he hated his course, and left”.

Other reasons for housemate displacements involve social conundrums.

“Our housemate recently got her first ever boyfriend, and since then she’s been acting really off with us” stated another student, who signed for a house back in Michaelmas.

One thing that remains clear is that this problem is very real, and then the search for a new housemate is incredibly taxing. It is essential that this room is filled, owing to the additional financial burden if it goes unused. The issues in finding a new housemate stem from a saturated market, with a general lack of demand. Anyone without a house is usually scooped up in the Durham SU’s well attended ‘find a housemate’ event.

The Durham SU’s community officer, Laura Carter, commented saying; “This year our event was very well attended and we will introduce more events like this during the next academic year.”

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Image: Durham Students’ Union

Students looking to fill a room in their house often have to resort to posts on Facebook and fliers in their landlord’s window, with varying degrees of success. Your writer posted on ‘Overheard at Durham Uni’ and was quickly flooded with a deluge of messages pertaining potential accommodation for the coming academic year. Students looking to fill a room are often forced to compete in a highly competitive market.

There is absolutely no guarantee that your spare room will be filled. One group put up a flier and Facebook post in early Epiphany. They waited with baited breath, receiving no interest until May. Such a large period of time to wait was very stressful for both themselves and their outgoing housemate.

Many often rely on the arrival of Erasmus students to plug the gap. “A few Erasmus students have been asking” was a regular when enquiring who else had asked about a property.

The problems in filling an empty room are inflamed by college’s attitudes. During the initial house-signing period college welfare run events to help students choose the best house for themselves, and the best group of housemates. This includes talks, tours and the distribution of leaflets. Anyone left out under this system then has the option to live in college next year.

Although occasionally viewed as a “last resort” (as one student said) place of habitation, colleges are bound with an obligation to take on ‘homeless’ students. This puts those looking for a new housemate in direct competition with both other houses and their own college. Considering the relative wealth of college, compared to the nerve-wracking situation of housemate searchers, it would appear that this policy is intrinsically unfair. Colleges should surely be aiming to promote newly available student housing outside their walls, giving students the chance to opt to live-out if they would like to.

Having contacted colleges, it appears that no system is yet in place to assist pre-formed houses find a new housemate beyond word of mouth. Welfare and the Students’ Union alike should aim to close this gap, by providing an active information service and a range of support services both for those looking for a housemate, and for those trying to find accommodation in Durham.

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