Students turn to alternative housing options

Housing shortage has students camping, couch-surfing and venting their frustration

Twenty students from the University of Copenhagen rolled out their sleeping bags outside the office of Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen (Socialdemokraterne) last week on Friday to highlight the lack of available and affordable property for students in Copenhagen.

“We staged this alternative action because Mayor Frank Jensen has been avoiding us the past couple of weeks,” Karl Kristiansen, the event organiser, said. “He avoids us because he doesn’t want to answer our question: Why don’t you take leadership in the political process of building students’ housing?”

Since 1995, Copenhagen has not built any subsidised student housing. Currently, only 13 percent of students live in public youth housing.

Campsites and youth hostels have become home to as many as 60 international and Danish students whilst they seek a more permanent solution, and waiting lists for student residence halls are around two years long.

During August and September the strain on the property market increases as students are confirmed a place at university and rush to find a place to live.

In response to the shortage, the University of Copenhagen is encouraging students to stay in hostels before finding somewhere to rent.

“Attempt to find short-term options, which could serve as a temporary arrangement while you look for something permanent,” the housing section of its website reads.

To raise the housing shortage issue and to offer a temporarily solution, the University of Copenhagen Students’ Council has launched its own couch-surfing service,which asks existing students to offer a bed, sofa or floor to new students whilst they look for a place to rent. In three weeks, they have matched over 55 students, both Danish and international.

“The problem is not that we are increasing the numbers of students,” Bjarke Lindemann Jepsen, the president of the students’ council, said. “The problem is that the minister of education, Morten Østergaard, has a very ambitious plan of admitting more students without recognising the problem of students’ housing.”

The council has suggested allowing municipal land to be sold below market price for the purpose of building student accommodation. To fund the construction, they suggest using public-private partnerships, requiring pension funds, private equity funds, public housing associations and local authorities to work together.

“New students, especially international students, are some of the most vulnerable people on the Copenhagen housing market,” Jepsen said. “Most of us don’t have money to buy a flat. We have to find something to rent. If more student housing was built then general pressure on the renting market would decrease, benefiting everyone.”

Students coming from abroad to study at the University of Copenhagen are not guaranteed a place to live, with approximately only 20 percent being offered a room.

One entrepreneur, Jette Horn, quit her job and launched the Copenhagen Rental Service to help international students find rooms. In less than two months she has helped more than 320 students find permanent accommodation.

“This job is much more important. It’s not that easy, even though I do manage … I simply have to,” said Horn.

Despite few resources, Horn often meets students in person and frequently takes phone calls and Skype requests after working hours.

By 2020 it is estimated that 45,000 new homes must be found in Copenhagen to meet demand from young people. A report from the national student organisation Danske Studerendes Fællesråd projects that between 2010-2020 the number of Danish people aged 18-29 years old will increase from 130,000 to 160,000. The number of international students is also expected to rise by over 15,000 in the same period.