The Guardian’s piece on student housing (27 December) describes queuing in Durham to secure a property for Autumn 2023 and quotes data supplied by StuRents to quantify the national shortfall in student beds.
The City of Durham Trust has been taking a close interest in how Durham University’s growth can be accommodated in this very small city, where the number of students now significantly exceeds the resident population of the City of Durham Parish.
Without doubt, the expansion of the University has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the provision of student accommodation. As a result, thousands of family homes in the City have been converted into Houses in Multiple Occupation. This has proved to be very profitable for student landlords, who of course do not pay Council Tax, and very harmful to the principle of balanced and sustainable communities.
StuRents are a national company that provides a paid-for service to private developers, private landlords and investors. We have looked at their claims of massive shortfalls of student beds as against need. For Durham they estimate that there will be a demand for 21,317 student beds in the Academic Year 2023/24. StuRents compare this with the 17,914 student beds they list on their website in Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) and in Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) developments. Taking the latter figure from the former gives them their figure of a 3,403 bed “deficit”.
The crucial mistake made by StuRents is to have forgotten that Durham University has Colleges, seventeen of them in fact. The University accommodates some 7,500 students, mainly first-years, in these Colleges. Thus the total number of student bed-spaces for 2023/24 will be StuRents’ 17,900 in private accommodation plus 7,500 in University’s accommodation, that is a total of 25,400 – well above StuRents’ projection of 21,317 as next year’s need. There is no shortfall!
The fact is there is in Durham a surplus of student beds, but landlords and their agents deliberately promote a rush by students to secure a bed for next year and to achieve the high rents involved.
StuRents’ message, and the resulting headlines, have caused panic amongst newly-arrived first year students and led them to form rushed alliances into paying over-the-odds for next year’s accommodation. This is the reality here in Durham and desperately needs sorting out between the University and the local authority.
The example of Nottingham in the Guardian’s article points to a potential solution: there, the local authority has collaborated with the town’s two universities on a student living strategy to determine how much housing is required and available. Surely, for the sake of the well-being of students and of their host communities, that should be happening everywhere.