At 8:20 am on Monday, I joined the hundreds of Durham University students as they queued along New Elvet, waiting for letting agents to open their doors. 

The anxiety in the queue was palpable, and even though I have not had to scrabble to sign for a house for the last three years, as people thumbed through booklets of property on offer, even I could feel my heart rate rising. 

Many students felt like this was their last chance to secure a house - as houses had been taken off the market as fast as they were being put on - one group told me that they had called ahead to enquire about eight different houses, only to be told that every single one had been reserved already. 

In spite of this, and although many of the students had been out in the cold overnight, they seemed in good humour, with a kind of camaraderie borne from the absurdity of the situation. 

The Northern Echo: The map shows how rent for three-bed houses in Durham city dwarfs that of surrounding areas. Image: Matthew Wiecek. The map shows how rent for three-bed houses in Durham city dwarfs that of surrounding areas. Image: Matthew Wiecek. (Image: Matthew Wiecek)

People were eager to tell me how long they had been in the queue, where they had come from, or what they would usually be doing. Some had come from sports practice, rehearsals, dinner in college, and nightclubs. 

Others had taken power naps before arriving in the small hours of the morning - but all were united in their desperation to find somewhere to live. 

Read more: Durham University students sleep on streets to secure accommodation

One 18-year-old told me: "It's a really bumpy start in the adult world. I can barely do laundry and I'm having to find people to live with and sign on a property. I only got to Durham three weeks ago!"

The frustration, too, is clear. One young woman commented: "I am really angry that letting agents drop big batches of houses so early into the academic year. We shouldn't have to sign on rentals a year in advance. 

"They make a huge profit off our panic!"

Every student is well aware that at the heart of the issue is the simple fact that there are just too many students for the small city to hold. Many were attracted to the university in the first place as it has a small-town feel - but they think that the senior leadership at the university has yet to get the memo. 

"They know that there are too many students, but when they make a big profit from extra fees and full-capacity colleges, I doubt they will take action."

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.”

Read more: Durham University offers £2 meals to struggling students/staff

They also explained some of the exceptional circumstances that contributed to the run on this year's housing: "As with many universities, our student intake for 2020 and 2021 was higher than anticipated due to unexpected shifts in the grading of A-levels and other Level 3 qualifications.

"We anticipate our student population returning to a maximum of 21,500 over time, as the larger intakes of 2020 and 2021 progress to graduation."

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