The wrong side of the Rental Crisis: my struggle securing roots
Frances Roberts sheds light on her personal experience of struggling to find accommodation this academic year amidst the stark student housing crisis sweeping the nation:
Artwork by Alison Laing (IG: @Alisonlaingart).
I am currently writing this article curled up in bed under a woollen blanket, my frozen fingers tapping away, forcing me to contemplate whether to finally switch the heating on. It is coming up to the week anniversary of moving into my fourth year flat which has been an incredibly stressful journey. Not where I imagined I’d be at the tail end of the first semester of my final year at University, but this is the reality which so many students across Edinburgh and beyond have been faced with in the midst of an ongoing housing crisis sweeping the country.
The causes of the crisis seem to be complex and intersecting. The cost of living crisis has forced many landlords to convert previously HMO dwellings into more lucrative Airbnbs or sell up altogether and with many more students continuing their tenancies from last year, there has been a significant shortage of flats in the city. The housing market has simultaneously plummeted,pricing people out of their mortgages and exerting extra pressure on the demand for rental properties. In addition, the University of Edinburgh (UoE) has taken on more students this year than ever before, meaning in October, for the first time ever, all 7,000 rooms in UoE accommodation were occupied. This left many students stranded with nowhere to live, and predictably minimal support from the University, who have a shared responsibility for this chaos.
It took two long months for me to find a flat, followed by another agonising four weeks until I could move in. It was early August and I’d just got back from my semester abroad in Melbourne, ready to begin the search for a student flat, ideally with a few period features and within walking distance from the Library. Very quickly I became frustrated with what appeared to be an overwhelmed rental market, full of sky-high prices for low value properties. It took weeks, and hundreds of requests, before I could even secure any viewings, and when I finally did get confirmations, they would often end up cancelled because another desperate student had made an offer even higher than the already extortionate rent advertised. In my despair, I sought clarification that I wasn’t missing something blindingly obvious; an estate agent confirmed the unprecedented demand and told me that viewings for properties had waiting lists with over a thousand people. At the same time, I was also looking for people to live with and unaware of the scale of the crisis, it was very isolating.
As soon as I returned to Edinburgh, I began to discover similar stories every day from all sorts of students. There is a momentous lack of data in order to quantify this crisis but student-run surveys like the one organised by Slurp, are beginning to uncover the lived experiences of those affected. Sofa- surfing at a friend’s, sharing a partner’s room, staying in a hostel and then Edinburgh University’s controversial answer: Pollock Halls. Everytime someone would express pity at my situation, I would attempt to convince myself that it really wasn’t that bad by replying “at least I’m not in a bunk bed”. The reality: that I was having to battle with my own temporary accommodation stresses and downplaying them was only internalising these struggles. Experiencing a friendship breakdown in my third year in addition to now finding myself in a precarious living situation whilst struggling to find a flat or flatmates, all made for a rather unsettling entry back into Edinburgh.
Over the two months where I did not have a permanent address, I stayed in three different flats in Edinburgh as well as two in Glasgow. I have stayed with friends, family and family-friends, each time becoming further and further away from campus (and eventually to another city altogether), and feeling more and more removed from student life. I have always been a highly independent individual, so relying on the generosity of others, mostly people I didn’t know, was terrifying, as the anxiety of being a burden felt constant. Then followed the inevitably awkward and confronting conversations which reminding me of the instability of my situation became increasingly unsettling and triggering. I ultimately understood that balancing their desire to alleviate my stresses within their own challenging circumstances meant that boundaries became inevitable. Ultimately, it was a struggle which felt inescapable, affecting every aspect of my University life.
While an optimist might say it’s a chance to explore different parts of the city, it was largely not something I felt I had the capacity to do. For the last two weeks I had been in Portobello, in a flat overlooking the sea, and whilst it is easy to romanticise the enjoyment in the time I had for myself, taking long walks on the beach and scavenging for pottery, I can’t ignore the lonely evenings I spent staring at the moon to the sounds of radio six music. Waking up next to the sun rising over the sea, at times, felt like a holiday, but not one where I could truly relax or feel refreshed.
Having finally moved into my flat, I feel I have the sufficient stability to sit down and write this article, a process which has been cathartic. It’s slowly starting to feel like home (and very handy for the library) and my flatmates and I are quickly bonding over shared music tastes and tote bag upcycling. But, settling still feels like a huge adjustment after becoming used to constantly being on the move. Although I’m relieved to have finally found physical roots, it’s the sense of stability around this structure which I need to rebuild, a process which will take time.
To anyone still affected by this issue, I want to recognise that this will likely have been a difficult and confronting read, but in a vacuum of institutional support networks, I hope it offers some sense of reassurance.