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Durham students forced to queue overnight to secure housing

Increased demand and diminished supply have resulted in fierce competition for student housing in the city

Thomas*, 19, woke up at 5am on Tuesday morning. Blinking the sleep out of his eyes and pulling on his coat, he headed down to Frampton and Roebuck – an estate agent based in Durham – to see if he’d be able to find somewhere to live with his housemates for the next academic year.

“Initially I said to myself I’d get there for 7:45, but one of my friends told me he was getting there for 6:45, because he heard there were going to be a lot of people there,” he tells Dazed. “Then my girlfriend said her friends were going at five. I didn’t want to risk it, so I said, OK, I’ll go at five.” When Thomas arrived, hours before the sun had even risen, there were already “around 25” people ahead of him in the queue. 

Earlier this week, crowds of Durham students like Thomas camped outside Frampton and Roebuck estate agents in a bid to secure housing for the next academic year, according to The Tab. Students waited in the queue for up to nine hours, with some reportedly coming straight from nights out to join the queue at 2am, and others bringing laptops with them to do uni work through the night. Speaking to The Tab, one student claimed that by 7:30am, there were “a couple hundred people” gathered outside the office. Thomas estimated that at one point there were around “two to three hundred”.

While Frampton and Roebuck normally open at 9am, the estate agents were forced to open at 8am in order to deal with the swathes of students waiting outside. Some students say they still waited up to three hours before speaking to someone.

The Tab reports that many students were signing housing contracts against the windows of adjoining shops. One group of six students were reportedly left with no other option but to sign up for a seven-bedroom house. Several allegedly signed for houses they hadn’t even viewed, before knocking on doors and asking current tenants to let them look around their future homes.

“One of the [agents] came out and went along the line, asking people ‘how big is your group?’ and ‘have you got a particular house in mind?’, so they could let people know if the house had already been signed,” Thomas says. “We got lucky, but I imagine there were other people further back in the queue that didn’t get the house they wanted.”

There’s always a bit of panic every autumn, when avaricious letting agents goad first-year students into signing for a second-year house immediately, or else they’ll all be gone come summer. In years gone by, this would literally never happen – but the landscape this year is different: a housing shortage combined with record numbers of students has resulted in demand legitimately outstripping supply in the private rental market.  

@thetabdurham Last night Durham University students were left sleeping on the streets in order to sign a student house for next year. It is only October! Students are being priced out of housing and many are worried they won’t be able to live in Durham next year #durham #durhamuni #durhamuniversity #thetabdurham #thetab ♬ original sound - thetabdurham

Consequently, there’s fierce competition for accommodation – hence the hours-long queues. Some desperate students have even offered to pay landlords double rent in bidding wars, and priced poorer students out of accommodation in the process. Durham’s student paper, Palatinate, also reported on soaring rents in the city earlier this month: they found that only a small minority of homes were priced at less than £120 per person per week (pppw), with some listed for as much as £212pppw. For a student with the highest possible maintenance loan of £12,667, this would leave just £1,643 to cover their living costs for the year.

Thomas’ new house will cost him £185 a week, with bills included. “It’s about £20 a week more than we’re paying this year,” he says. “But I’ve come to terms with it – I knew the rent was going to be a bit ridiculous this year, given the higher demand.” He adds that he has a friend who is paying a lot more: £209 a week, without bills. “I feel bad for a lot of people,” he says. “There were so many people in the queue who must have been disappointed. I’m sure there will be people that will either be priced out of living in Durham, or there just won’t be enough accommodation for people to live here. I’m one of the lucky ones.”

Durham Students’ Union put out a statement in response to the brewing crisis on their website last month. “This is a national problem, made worse by the size of our university relative to the city,” they said. “Student numbers in the city have grown significantly in recent years, but there has been limited growth in available housing. The University has a clear duty of care to its students regarding housing, whether in university-managed accommodation or not, as they have been brought to Durham by the University.”

“Students’ welfare is our top priority, and we will continue to push the University to ensure that no student is without accommodation in this, or any other, year.”

Mary Kelly Foy, Labour MP for Durham, has asked students to reach out to her if they’re struggling to navigate the private rental market.

*Name has been changed