Durham University students were forced to sleep on the streets to secure housing for the 2023 to 2024 academic year.

Hundreds of students began queuing up outside of letting agents in order to secure houses that had been released onto the rental market for next September. 

The race to secure accommodation has begun a year in advance, with one letting agent saying returning students are asking about rentals for October 2023 since June 2022. 

A huge queue, which was seen on Monday, came after letting agent Frampton & Roebuck released all of their properties for the 23-24 onto the market at once.

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The Northern Echo: Hundreds of students queued outside for hours to try to secure housing. Picture: The Northern EchoHundreds of students queued outside for hours to try to secure housing. Picture: The Northern Echo (Image: The Northern Echo)

In the queue, some students said they had stepped straight out of clubs to join, whereas others tuned into early lectures on their laptops while awaiting a chance.

One group told The Northern Echo that they joined the queue at 5 am, but had yet to secure a property.

They said: "We signed on our fifth option without having been able to view it, but when we went there were so many issues with the house that we are back at square one."

In recent weeks, students have reported they have viewed houses without toilet seats, with black mould covering walls, or with parts of ceilings having caved in. 

"We went to see one house that was priced over £180 per person per week, and one of the bedrooms was so small that we couldn't open the door fully," the group said.

A large proportion of the students currently house hunting are first-years, who arrived in Durham only three weeks ago.

One said: "The atmosphere in Durham has totally changed today, everyone seems panicked and anxious. 

"People are looking through listings in lectures and at the college dining hall - it is all anyone will talk about. There has a lot of pressure to find people that I want to live with."

Students believe that the root of this issue is two-fold - firstly, the number of students is simply too high for the number of rental properties on the market.

Rex Munson, the Junior Common Room President of St Mary's College, said: "The current second year is the biggest year that Durham has seen, and the number of students is 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 over capacity is echoed by students, locals, and letting agents alike. 

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A letting agent explained: "Durham Council will only let around 10 per cent of houses in a certain area be converted into student housing - so we have run out of properties."

Asked on this issue, Mary Foy, Labour MP for Durham, said: "This is quite simply ludicrous. The housing market is simply not working for residents or students in our city."

Meanwhile, students are keen to secure properties early as they understand that the cheaper properties are likely to be snapped up rapidly - meaning that those wanting to pay less than £850/month have to act quickly.  

Speaking to The Northern Echo many students expressed that they felt landlords were "price gouging", and thought that landlords were taking advantage of the 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 housing right now know that the cost and availability of houses mean they risk not being able to find somewhere affordable."

"Durham has too many students for the size of the city, and not enough planning has gone into this. The University has a responsibility to the students they recruit and admit, and have a duty of care to students whether they live in university-managed accommodation or not."

In 2020-21, properties on Moatside Mews, a desirable street located behind the Castle, could cost students approximately £113 to £120. If students want to live in this location for the 22-23 academic year, they will have to fork out between £184 and £199. 

One letting agent justified this increase in rent costs, saying it was in line with inflation and increasing bills. However, to justify this increase, inflation rates would have to be over 60 per cent, or would a five-bed household would have to use £1380 in utilities every month. 

A Durham University spokesperson said: “We work hard to support our students across both academic and non-academic matters, including working with Durham Students’ Union and student leaders as appropriate.”

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