The Unreal Estate of Student Housing

With rents continuing to rise, Keith Feenan looks at what it takes for a student to live Dublin. [hr]The first thing that should be said on the issue of housing is very simple: these problems are nothing new. Any amount of research will show this, go online and you’ll find many articles written on the subject over the past five to ten years. The numbers change, the stories don’t. Dublin’s students are living in broken down flats, being extorted in digs or catching pneumonia from damp in the walls; the list goes on. Rather than focus on horror stories reported online or in print, it’s better to look at why this is happening and why this problem is not fading away.The University Observer spoke to two UCD students and the UCD Students’ Union’s Accommodations Officer to get their front-line views. Rokas Stasiškis, a first year Computer Science student, lives in Cherrywood, roughly 45 minutes away from Belfield. He is paying around €700 a month for a room in an apartment. This is one of the most common scenarios facing students in Dublin. Stasiškis came to UCD from the UK, and says that having lived previously in Cardiff and Essex, the price of accommodation was considerably higher in Dublin. Stasiškis’ main problem while searching was that even when going to the extreme of his budget, the quality was not there; “it’s pretty grim… the standard for the prices.” Some of the nicer places for roughly €600 a month were only digs: five days a week for €600. This is just not practical for most students, and is unrealistic and unfair. In Cherrywood, though he hasn’t encountered horror-story levels of problems, there have been difficulties with heating and hygiene, plus the usual difficulties of sharing a flat.
O’Neill was asked to vacate the house “with one week’s notice and no reason provided.”
For students who are unable to find a place to lease by themselves, many often turn to digs-type arrangements. For some this can be a success, for others, like Melanie O’Neill*, a fourth year Science student, the lack of regulation around renting in digs can prove problematic. Having moved in with a family of three, after one week, O’Neill was asked to vacate the house “with one week’s notice and no reason provided.” When O’Neill spoke to her landlord to find out the reasons why, and to get her deposit returned, she was accused of using the house for sex work and then asked to “leave the house that day.” As to the €1200 deposit she had paid, she was told she “would get her money when she left the house.” After O’Neill left the house, she returned with her father three days later when she was given roughly three quarters of the deposit back. O’Neill went to UCDSU after the incident, and discovered that a template of a lease is available to download from the SU website that students can bring with them to sign with the agreement of their landlord in a digs setup. A written agreement would provide students with a form of security against having experiences such as O’Neill’s.
This highlights the main problem with student accommodation in Dublin: there may be places available but they are not affordable.
Adrian Wennberg, a Computer Science student in second year, lives with his girlfriend in an apartment on Merrion Road. He has had very few problems with the apartment and the landlord has been very helpful. Wennberg went from living in on-campus accommodation to his current apartment after spending several months looking for a place. He again felt that the price was high and still thinks, like Stasiškis, he had to push his price range to find somewhere. Despite this “I still got it cheaper than the accommodation that’s on campus because the accommodation on campus is pretty expensive.” Wennberg also mentioned that it was a lot more expensive here than at home in Norway. This highlights the main problem with student accommodation in Dublin: there may be places available but they are not affordable. Éilis Ryan, in an article in The Journal noted this year that since their lowest point in 2010, rent prices in Dublin have increased by 65%.
"It’s great for the 1% who can afford them."
Housing security, affordability, and suitability are the major factors for students hunting for accommodation. Ailbhe O’Halloran, the SU’s Accommodation Officer, agrees that there are not enough beds for students on the market at prices that students can afford. “Planning permission has been gotten by so many groups this year alone, to build thousands of student beds and they’re all along the lines of the Montrose that we have just across the flyover, where they are going to cost over €1000 a month which is again huge, and just not what our students need.” There is a lack of realistically priced, quality accommodation for students close to the colleges, especially UCD and Trinity. Expanding on-campus accommodation “will be great for the 1% who can afford them, but that’s not really going to change the situation for the 99%” O’Halloran says.This is an area where UCD needs to be pro-active. O’Halloran believes UCD is not doing enough in helping people find accommodation on and off campus. Although universities should do all they can, this is not a problem solely affecting students. Student accommodation is only a symptom of much larger problems in Irish society. It is no secret that Ireland is facing a terrible Housing crisis. As Stasiškis put it “you can’t help people search for something that isn’t there.” *not her real name