The Durham Housing Crisis

Before coming to Durham I had already been told harrowing stories of desperate housing searches by somewhat traumatized students. Despite the stress seeping out of those reporting their troubles, I assumed it was just a dramatic over-exaggeration.

Little did I know.

First came the issue of deciding on housemates, a task at the time which seemed to define and undermine friendships. Of course, this is not the case and those living with three other people will not be confined to have only three friends for the duration of their second year, but it seems to be a premature process hardly suitable for freshers who are still finding their feet socially and trying to establish their confidence and comfort in the completely new experience that is university.

Regardless of this, the search must begin as rumors circulate around college that all the ‘good’ houses are going and if you haven’t signed a house by Christmas you will simply be homeless. To a rational human, these are blatantly absurd claims; to a shaky fresher they are warnings to be heeded.

In a group of eight, the necessity to sign for a house sooner rather than later is perhaps one of the few circumstances in which it is sensible to select a residency fast.

So, the scavenge for houses began.

Source: Lizzy Aiton

Late night trips of desperate door knocking and impromptu viewings at the mercy of the current residents commenced. For some, a decision was come to quickly and the documents signed and ready within a few days at the cost of attending lectures since the risk of your dream house being sold to someone else is too much to bear. For us, it was a more strenuous and lengthy race.

From the Viaduct, to Claypath, to Gilesgate, we roamed in search of our perfect future home, intruding on house parties and quiet nights in to assess whether the rooms would be big enough, and the facilities in a good state of repair. Whilst it was a stressful experience, I cannot deny the excitement of picturing yourself also engaging in these activities – the house warming that will never be forgotten, the moments of bonding with each other, the nights spent watching TV once you accept the horrific price of TV license. These fantasies are perhaps less fulfilling when the house in which you have mentally constructed the next year of your life is sold within half an hour of you and your future housemates deciding it is the perfect house for you.

Eventually, when you do find a house that is not too big, too small, too expensive, or too far by a miraculous unanimous judgement, there is the inevitable sprint to the estate agent and the actual frantic signing as the prospect of roaring admin fees and deposits and responsibility become a reality. There is nothing like the rising house prices and scarcity of housing to acquaint students with inflation. £85 for a house in 2017, £95 for the same house in 2018, and lo and behold a hefty £125 for us in 2019 which estate agents will attempt to convince you is a bargain. At the risk of sounding like an overly angsty student, we are all in a vice, complaining and cursing about the extortionate ‘daylight robbery’ that we are subject to, but ultimately there is nothing to do but accept that there is no alternative to the iron clad contracts which leave us as the responsible and to be penalised for anything that goes askew.

Nevertheless, the relief of signing a house is indescribable; you can finally relax; finally exhale. That is until you are informed that many housing agreements fall through before the year is out, and for some the search will be resumed all too soon.

The house hunt is character building to say the least, but for now, it is time to put those worries to rest.

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