By Emily Brewster, Third Year, History
When wandering around Redland or Clifton, the now notoriously student-populated neighbourhoods in Bristol, the unsuspecting visitor is quickly drawn to the grandiose Victorian townscape, with quaint terraced housing (famously in pastel multi-colour) and stately mini-mansions. They find themselves exclaiming ‘I can’t believe these are the studenty areas of the city! My student digs were horrible! Lucky things! ’. And in many ways, that we are.
Redland and Clifton are home to some beautiful architecture, especially when compared to Birmingham’s Selly Oak or Manchester’s Fallowfield which have similarly dense student populations, but significantly less of Bristol’s aesthetic charms. Equally unique to Bristol, however, is the increasingly unaffordable student housing crisis which I have witnessed evolving before my very eyes.
As a bright-eyed second year student in 2018, my older sister moved into an enormous, 9-bedroom house in the heart of Redland, fit with a driveway and family-sized garden. A little damp in the basement room aside, they had no complaints or issues to report with their £515-a month pad. Fast-forward to my own entry into second year in Bristol in 2022, following a pandemic and energy crisis, any optimism I had was eliminated upon walking into the mold-infested hovel which was costing significantly more for than my sister’s had four years earlier. Perhaps the most startling thing of all was that this was not a unique experience for myself and my horrified housemates; friends of mine, paying even higher rents than us, were particularly aghast to discover the collapse of their living room ceiling overnight, covering their furniture and belongings in plaster, concrete and dust. ‘All you can do is laugh’, they said to me with an exasperated shrug.
The housing situation has been a growing source of frustration amongst students at Bristol University for the past few years, as every step in the renting process has become a point of stress, dismay, and drama. Every Bristol student shudders when remembering the November/December hunting period, where every property, dingy as it may be, has at least ten groups competing for a tenancy at extortionate prices. There is no time to be fussy, or else you find yourself stood outside the SU for hours in mid-December with nowhere to sleep the following year, receiving patronising yet sympathetic expressions from those, more fortunate, entering the ASS.
Come July, as you face the state of your new house, you find the unresponsive agent to be less than helpful in fixing your broken shower, repairing leaking roofs, or treating black mold on your bedroom wall. You’ll receive passionate advice from indignant family members to ‘report them to the council, the property should be condemned!’ – but then you are stuck without a bed alongside a reported one-quarter of other Bristol University students. Of course, collecting the keys to these disheveled digs predicates a financial burden which many are unable to shoulder, with Bristol students paying almost a grand more than the UK average, explaining the University’s historic privilege gap and its threat to grow further.
One third-year student recalls the stressful experience of house-hunting properties, which were ‘either extremely unaffordable or snatched up so quick. We genuinely didn’t know how we’d afford the properties on the market’.
So, what, or who, is to blame for this mounting problem posed to students looking for homes in Bristol? In 2023 Bristol has become the most expensive city to live in outside of London in the UK, overtaking the typical runners-up of Oxford and Edinburgh, explaining the rising rents affecting students and Bristol residents alike. What is not explained by this, however, is the negligence of agencies like Digs and Flatline to provide students with safe, clean, and appropriate abodes whilst they attend university. Whilst housing costs have gone up in Bristol for all, it is only the student populations who are charged extortionately for damp, dirty housing, which no one with access to other options would take in their right mind. The exploitation of the student housing shortage is perpetuating the crisis year after year, with these agencies profiting enormously from the desperation of cash-strapped students in need of a roof over our heads.
Once again, we are only 3 blissful months away from enduring the ruthless, anxiety-inducing housing hunt which Bristol’s veteran students are so familiar with. My advice? I wish I had some. Grab as many house viewings as you can and call up as soon as you find a good one to bag it. You can only hope you get lucky.
Featured Image: Megan Ioannides
Have you struggled in the past to find adequate student housing in Bristol? Get in touch @epigrampaper