Why are so many students struggling to find accommodation in big cities?

Rhiannon Clark·22 January 2023·5 min read
Why are so many students struggling to find accommodation in big cities?

Students are struggling more and more each year to find housing in big cities, but why is this? In simple terms, this issue is a lack of supply and a high demand, but why is this an issue?

Each year, the number of 18-year-olds is larger, so the number of first-years is increasing in proportion. Therefore, there is a higher volume of students who need housing. The housing market simply cannot keep up with this demand.

Furthermore, we are still feeling the effects of the pandemic. Teacher-assessed A-Level grades led to a hyper-inflation of grades meaning more and more students were being accepted by the higher-ranking universities asking for higher grades. Because of this oversubscription, many universities offered many first-year students financial compensation to defer their place in 2020 until 2021. In 2021, the University of Leeds offered students £10,000 and free accommodation if they agreed to come back when their courses weren’t oversubscribed. Many students also voluntarily deferred their university places due to worries about the pandemic negatively affecting university experience and worries about experiencing difficulties socialising and online learning. Therefore, come 2021 and 2022, there has been a backlog of the previous years’ deferrals, alongside the growing cohort of 18 year-olds every year hoping to attend university. So, universities, despite their efforts, remain oversubscribed and have accepted more students than they’re able to house. Unfortunately, this issue is only going to get worse unless large amounts of new student housing is made available.

This has led to huge housing issues in large cities or cities with multiple universities like Bristol, Glasgow, Dublin and York. For example, Bristol students were offered accommodation in Newport, Wales, and York students were offered accommodation in Hull. Despite having their respective universities offer to pay their hour-long commute costs, students are naturally not satisfied with this. So, in big cities, the growing oversubscription to these universities, with little to no new accommodation being built or made available, will make it so that the few beds available will be being fought after more and more students each year.

Due to the lack of supply, landlords have the monopoly and can rake up prices, knowing full well that the properties will still be let and this is exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis. Even if there are properties available, because students’ budgets may be lower, with rent prices higher, it means there are few affordable options. Even students who do secure accommodation may find themselves in a position where they discover they cannot re-sign onto it for the following year due to rent increases and be back to square one. Maybe we need to be discussing whether student loans need to be increasing in proportion with the cost of living.

Even when budget isn’t a problem, simply the competition on the housing market in big cities can leave many students without a room. There simply aren’t enough rooms and when the supply gets short, students must be the first through the door to secure that property. In Bristol, Ben Giles, manager of Balloon Letting Company explained how fierce the competition is, stating that “When we put up a student property now, the phone rings straight away and doesn’t stop for about six hours" (1). Often students report properties being let before they’ve even had the chance to view them, somewhat resembling the competition on the housing market in New York. Students may experience being out-bid for a property, having to offer more than the property is worth or more than they can afford just to secure it.

Many student landlords have also discovered the lucrative market of AirBnbs and holiday homes. So, especially in large cities like Manchester and Glasgow, which can be desirable city break locations, student houses may have been taken off the market to become holiday lets.

Unfortunately for students, the moral of the story here is to look early and get your accommodation sorted before supplies go. Do some research into the competitiveness of your city’s housing market and get organised accordingly. It is also worth discussing what more universities could be doing to support students during this housing crisis.

(1) Anna Fazackerley and Eve Livingston, ‘Devastated’ UK students forced to live in neighbouring cities in university accommodation crisis, The Observer, 2022