Student rents are catastrophic


Building new homes is the only way we can solve the crisis

Article Image

Image by Louisa Norton

By Ethan Reuter

Students are lazy, notoriously so. You know it, I know it, and I’ve seemingly single-handedly made it my mission to enlighten my seminar tutors of this. The lesser spotted university undergrad has an incredible ability to procrastinate in all areas of life. We’ve all seen the washing up left around the kitchen; some of you I’m sure, may have even had a hand in its creation. There’s the reading left until seconds before the seminar begins and the complete lack of organisation skills in all other aspects of life. For a lucky few students, life doesn’t lurch from personal disaster to upcoming deadline, and as much as we’d love to know your secret, our own failings get in the way. The chaotic shambles of university life rears its head for one task above all: finding a house, and doing so in a timely manner. Some of us can’t find the will to live, most of us can’t find the right temperature to cook a pizza, and so how can all of us be expected to find a house in an orderly fashion?

It appears, dear reader, we’ve stumbled into the initial problem: finding a house at the best of times. This year, as you might’ve guessed, isn’t the best of times. It actually looks like the worst of times, with house price jumps being rather painful for most, and completely unaffordable for others. Specifically looking at the numbers, the unfortunate detail, 53 percent of students are struggling to afford rent across the UK, 79 percent worry about the cost of bills, and the price of student accommodation has risen by 61 percent in the last decade. To put that into context, over the decade inflation is 40 percent and house prices have risen 53 percent. It’s a fantastic help for landlords, less so for the impoverished university student. Certain students face the very real danger of being priced out of accommodation completely. Student housing has always been in vastly greater demand than supply, but with colleges already filled, those on tighter budgets are left with a rapidly diminishing range of options.

To give a flavour of the mood – and in the vain hope of writing Nouse’s future gossip column – I’ll paraphrase an unnamed friend, who mentioned either a divine miracle will be involved or they’re moving back in with their parents. In a different city. These sentiments are echoed when speaking to others who joke "it’s probably easier for me to quit university altogether than find a house on a budget". As is ever the case, housing arrangements fall through and future flatmates fight, but now most just can’t afford it anymore. I fear one thing will remain certain; some students will be left out in the cold. I cannot express eloquently in words, especially not words that are able to be printed in such a respectable newspaper, how much first-hand damage price hikes cause for students, nor how unjustified this seems to those with even a vague belief in the idea of equality of opportunity and the meritocracy.

This crisis, unfortunately, isn’t unique: Durham notably gave it their best shot, with Durham students queuing up last term for anywhere up to 14 hours outside of housing agents, but that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t predictable and fixable. The underlying cause of the issue stems from two different failures: a lack of houses across the UK generally, and a rise in interest rates. Naturally, interest rates affect monthly mortgage repayments, and so landlords must pay more money for their second houses. In turn, the students must deal with the cost by increased rents, rather than the landlords. Secondly, there’s the lack of housing in the UK, as successive governments have made it much more difficult to build houses in many areas. This creates an undersupply of houses and leads to increased prices. To actually achieve a genuinely affordable housing system, both inside and outside of student life, requires a vast increase in the number of houses built. This will not only reduce inequality, it will increase growth and bring student rental prices to a truly reasonable level.

Explaining the problem to those outside of university circles appears as difficult as getting my friends to understand the concept of using the library, or the joys of Salt & Pepper at 4am. My frustration at the lack of communication isn’t a singular case either, as the President of Universities UK highlights, students are “becoming the forgotten group in the cost of living crisis.” Students themselves are being forced to pick up the tab, not only when they’re in the pub, but also in the house. For an example of being forgotten, look no further than the real change in maintenance loans being, and get ready for this one, -7.2 percent. Yes I know, lovely isn’t it. It seems that bottle service in Revs will once again be limited to a select few. Maybe next year I suppose. Behind the protestations and sarcasm, there are obvious reasons for such hikes. However, such a crisis is stressful and worrying for all, and, if you couldn’t tell, it doesn’t make it any less infuriating. Let me leave you, painfully, with this, as the most worrying dynamic: there’s the potential to create a genuine and long lasting impact on our future success. We shouldn't allow ourselves to reach the point where the price of university becomes unattainable despite apparent academic attainment, and this is exactly the path we’re heading towards.