The Young Fine Gael (YFG) panel discussion event saw Deputy Maria Bailey and UCDSU President Barry Murphy discuss the housing crisis in Ireland, with a particular angle on third level student perspectives. Deputy Alan Farrell was also invited by the society to attend the event, but sent his apologies in his absence.

Before the main discussion commenced, auditor Killian Bourke asked for any un-tabled motions to be debated on the floor. The motion was raised that YFG should support the repealing of the blasphemy law in the upcoming referendum on 26th October. The motion was quickly seconded, and with no one speaking to oppose the motion, was passed by YFG. Deputy Bailey noted that the law had “no function in today’s modern society.”

Deputy Bailey opened the discussion by listing the “5 pillars” the Government is working on in relation to the housing crisis: Social housing; homelessness; utilizing stock, improving rented accommodation and building more homes. Deputy Bailey acknowledged improving the renting sector was “taking time to get where we need to go and is still not perfect yet.” Under this core focus, Bailey explained that the Government would be introducing a “cost renting model” for anyone that qualifies for affordable housing, who don’t qualify for any social supports. In this model, the state becomes a landlord and will rent apartments, “according to whatever the rent is in that area at 20-30% below the market value you be your rent.”

Bailey also mentioned the “Build to Rent” model for state owned or private owned land. In this model, up to 100 units will be built which “the state will pay up front…which then gives the equity to build on the site.” Bailey cited the enhancement of student build accommodation to decrease the demand for students seeking rented private accommodation. Addressing the claims that renting sector was “putting money in developers pockets”, Bailey explained that this was not the case as she said “86% of landlords in the rental market own between 1 and 2 properties. They were accidental landlords who bought a property, it was too small, had a family, rented that out and bought a second property.” She further explained that it was not viable for this percentage of landlords to remain in the rental sector, but emphasised the importance of the Government to keep those landlords in the rental sector.

Student accommodation consisted of a large portion of both Bailey’s and Murphy’s speaking time. Bailey called for a better standard of student accommodation, by giving more power to local authorities and rental tenancy boards. By providing both the boards and local authorities with more power, Bailey believes that this will lead to more properties being inspected by 2020, bringing student accommodation into a rent pressure zone.

Murphy began by highlighting issues surrounding the variety of student accommodation available in Dublin and the rest of Ireland. Murphy stated that there was “extremely substandard accommodation and far too luxurious accommodation” marketed at students attending third level institutes in Dublin. Students attending university in other parts of Ireland “get far better value” for their money.

A problem Murphy pointed out with the current rental sector was for students living in privately owned digs. He said that the current digs legislation which granted homeowners €14,000 tax free for renting rooms was “being abused by many landlords. Students have to negotiate their own terms.” In particular, Murphy feels international students are suffering the most through this current system. Recounting the work that not only UCDSU, but many student unions have done to lobby the Government on housing, Murphy called for the reporting mechanisms to be improved on unsuitable accommodation.

While summarising her points, Bailey agreed that there needed to be state funded awareness campaigns around guidance, rent-a-room scheme and digs. She added that “now someone may report on your behalf” to the rental tenancy boards, but said that local authorities need to examine the units reported on as unsuitable. Bailey stated that the rental sector was “a balancing act” and that it if the Government pushed too heavy, they would push landlords out of the market. She said that the only way to reduce the cost of housing was for the supply to meet the demand in building more houses.

This was one of the few points Murphy disagreed on, saying that “short term, we are seeing holes.” Mentioning UCD’s University Club and the Entrance Precinct, Murphy suggested that the Government needs to be more careful with what they will allow capital investment into, as a way to incentivise universities into building suitable student accommodation. “Students who have to commute 2 hours to college, are not the getting the college experience they are paying for… there needs to be more short term solutions.”

Deputy Bailey replied by saying “the long term solutions will happen in the short term too.” According to Bailey, the Government is trying to improve the quality of life, “looking at not just the housing, but the environment around it.”

Recounting her own college experience of commuting from “Killiney to Finglas, I just did it, I didn’t think twice”. Deputy Bailey then said that the solution to the housing crisis “takes time, money and legislation that stands in the courts.”