Your first college rental is something you’ll always remember. It won’t be fancy and will probably not have the same home comforts you are used to, but there is something special about being independent and having a space which is yours alone – whether that’s a room in digs, shared accommodation, or an apartment.
This is something first-time college students would normally be looking forward to. Instead, with an ongoing student accommodation crisis, finding a place to live has become a dreaded job. The reason? The accommodation either doesn’t exist, or has become incredibly expensive.
Rental price increase
According to the latest Daft Quarter Two Rental Report (daft.ie), rental prices have increased in every part of the country with national average monthly rent sitting at €1618. The most expensive areas to rent are, unsurprisingly, The most expensive areas to rent are, unsurprisingly, south county Dublin (where you will find TU Dublin Tallaght Campus; €2,387 average monthly rent) and south Dublin city (where you will find University College Dublin, average monthly rent €2,264). The report also says that in just one year average monthly rent has increased by a whopping 12.6% (this report excludes multi-unit rentals).
UCD Student Union president Molly Greenough says the severity of the issue is unprecedented and only going to get worse without direct Government intervention.
“The accommodation crisis is really locking students out of higher education,” she says. “We’ve seen an increase in students who are considering deferring their courses, taking a leave of absence or commuting incredibly lengthy distances just to attend college.”
Social and educational cost
Going to college – especially in first year – is all about education. But the education you receive is multi-faceted. You do your best academically, but additionally you learn about who you are as a person. These formative years as a young adult help shape your future and career goals. Molly says that when students have to worry about things like commuting to class each day, they are missing out on that wider experience.
“If students don’t have the chance to join clubs or societies and actually get ingrained in the social fabric of their university, they are really missing out - especially after such a tough past nearly three years with the COVID pandemic.”
Molly and her fellow members of the UCD Students’ Union have been running a “Digs Drive” – essentially calling out to homeowners in the vicinity of the university to consider renting rooms to students under the Government Rent a Room Relief Scheme (the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science say under this scheme a homeowner can rent a room, retain their social welfare entitlements where applicable and earn up to €14,000 in rental income before having to pay tax).
She says this campaign has been relatively successful, with over 200 homeowners signing up to rent rooms to students, but that this is a short term solution.
She tells Irish Country Living that UCD students are doing everything in their power to try to attend their classes this year, but many will be left “effectively homeless” with no sense of security in which to study. Many will resort to short-term solutions, like sleeping on friends’ couches. Other “solutions” are borderline dangerous.
“On the extreme end of the spectrum we have heard of students considering sleeping in their cars,” Molly says. “[Some] students have also asked whether it’s ok to pitch tents in UCD and sleep there.
“It’s been really difficult for students and their families - especially when you consider the number of courses only offered at UCD (like veterinary medicine),” she continues. “So if you want to attend UCD and you can’t find somewhere to live in Dublin, you’re either facing lengthy commuting times, will be effectively homeless or will make the tough decision to put a pause on your course or defer until the following year. “But there’s no guarantee that this crisis will be any better this time next year.”
Irish Country Living asked the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS) exactly what the Government aims to do to help students during this time of crisis. A representative sent a lengthy reply, stating it’s clear Ireland needs to “dramatically increase the supply of all types of housing and accommodation, including student accommodation.”
As a result, the Government has launched its Housing for All initiative, which is setting out a series of actions to address the housing crisis.
“The plan is backed by the largest housing budget in the history of the State to transform our housing system, in excess of €20 billion,” the representative writes.
“In a welcome development, the sector indicates that hundreds of additional bed spaces are to be made available by higher education institutions (HEIs) for the start of the forthcoming academic year. In addition, a major development of 674 additional bed spaces underway at NUI Galway is expected to be delivered later next year.
“The Department has also received support to progress a new policy that would bridge the challenging gap between the viability of delivering purpose-built student accommodation and subsequent rental affordability for students,” they continue. “This could involve the State assisting with the cost of building student accommodation in return for affordability commitments on rent. Work is continuing on this policy.”
Additional bed space in HEIs is a vast improvement on what’s currently available, but the costs to students remains inhibitive. Beth O’Reilly is president of Union of Students Ireland. She says HEIs are profiting greatly from the student accommodation crisis.
“The problem with a lot of the colleges is they will have their own accommodation and it’s not affordable,” she says. “And they know full well how much money a student has - and how in crisis the student population is right now - and they’re taking advantage of the situation.”
Beth also raises the point of delayed CAO results this year and the knock-on effect they are having on the race to source quality accommodation.
“First year students will have two weeks between getting their offer and sourcing accommodation – a very short period of time to try and find a place to live. There isn’t a lot of affordable stuff left on the market,” she explains. “What we’ve seen in the past few weeks is landlords are pushing what is acceptable [in terms of rental agreements].”
Two tier education system
Irish Country Living asks Beth if a potential way to alleviate the crisis might be to offer more virtual classes for students who can’t afford to commute or rent close to their college campus.
“My fear would be, if online learning is presented as a solution, we’ll end up with a two tier education system,” she responds, “where those who can afford to live near campus will get face-to-face learning, and those who can’t afford to will get online learning - which we know is not the best mode of educational delivery. It’s not a solution to a housing problem.” CL
What to do?
It is crucial for students looking for accommodation to understand their rights as tenants and the legal standards of student accommodation. Threshold Ireland is a national housing charity and their website (threshold.ie) provides advice and information – Beth recommends contacting them with any questions potential renters might have as they search for accommodation in the coming weeks. “It is so easy, in desperation, to send a deposit to someone you haven’t met,” she says. “Being aware of rental scams and your rights as a tenant is so important. There are lots of people looking to make money off of your desperation.”