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Are European cities becoming less affordable for international students?

cost of living in Europe
European cities are becoming less affordable as rent prices continue to hike. Source: Ludovic Marin/AFP

The cost of living in Europe is rising. Data from accommodation marketplace HousingAnywhere suggests that it’s becoming more expensive for students to live in the region, with rent prices for almost all property types in Europe soaring since last year.

Apartment prices are showing the steepest increase, with studios “catching up fast” according to the company’s International Rent Index Report for Q4 2021. Berlin, significantly, saw a 40% hike in the price of apartments from 2020 to 2021. 

Europe is a notoriously costly region in which to study. Paris, Zurich, Geneva, and Copenhagen have made the list of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world in 2021, with this steadily climbing as the years go by.

In the third quarter of 2021, rental prices in Europe rose for all student accommodation types. While some students were willing to pay this, many were forced to defer their studies after being unable to find affordable accommodation. 

“Cities are competing for talent, while talents are competing for housing,” says Djordy Seelmann, CEO of HousingAnywhere.

“This calls for stakeholders, such as municipalities, universities, property developers and technology providers to work together in finding both short-term and long-term solutions for the housing crisis that troubles Europe. We should be prioritising co-creation and cooperation, as global talents are postponing or even cancelling their international education and career plans because they cannot find proper housing.”

The company’s Q3 report explained that a post-pandemic landscape has increased the demand for private spaces, with more students willing to pay higher prices for accommodation that allows for social distancing. Unfortunately, this results in less accessible housing. 

Cost of living in Europe and its housing crisis

cost of living in EuropePeople in Berlin take part in a protest march with a placard which reads “We just want affordable flats.” Source: Tobias Schwarz/AFP

The housing crisis in Europe is not new. Even before the beginning of the pandemic, Europeans were spending more than 40% of their income on housing. Many were driven out of highly populated cities because they were no longer able to afford the rising cost of rental properties. 

On top of that, tenants would be forced to live in deplorable housing conditions. This inevitably extends to students who are oftentimes subject to overcrowded apartments and poorly insulated homes. Reports suggest students often don’t receive support or cooperation from their landlords on such matters. 

“The properties you’re given are always grotty or have blankets hanging up in the windows, peeling paint, maintenance problems, and letting agents don’t listen,” UK masters student Edem Simkins told the BBC. “Students are suffering and it’s not fair. We are paying so much for university, and to be paying rent for a horrible place where landlords won’t give you a second thought, on top of that. It’s just not right.”

Some individuals like Bristol University alumni Hannah Chappatte are creating avenues for students to find homes with full transparency and round-the-clock support. Others are careful to consult housing and landlord review websites before making a decision on rental properties. 

Most of the time, students are left to take matters into their own hands with little to no advice or guidance — making them vulnerable to landlords who are only concerned with making a profit. 

Profit-hungry landlords and investors are not uncommon in Europe. During the 2008 financial crisis, many of these individuals were quick to sweep up houses and properties that Europeans were evicted from, seeing it as an “investment opportunity.” Homelessness across the region skyrocketed as a direct result of this. The pandemic brings about an increasing concern that Europe will see a return of this phenomena. 

In the past, European cities have attempted to tackle this by regulating markets through price caps, but this did not prove entirely successful. Berlin scrapped its rent cap in April 2021, allowing landlords to demand for higher or back-payments on existing leases. Spain is showing a strong quarterly increase in rent prices after the country announced a new housing act to make housing more affordable, a result of low supply in the market. Rent prices in the Netherlands have not risen as sharply, but HousingAnywhere notes its year-on-year increase is still “very prominent.” 

Seelmann says that the European rental market is in dire need of a “stronger, long-term vision” to achieve housing that is available, affordable and accessible. 

“Short-term reliefs, such as rent caps and regulations, are not sustainable and can even be counterproductive in the long-term by adding risk to residential investment,” he explains. “This can have a negative impact on availability and accessibility.”