In late September 2018, it emerged that University College Cork’s Student Residential Services & Community Relations Officer, Gary Mulcahy, sent an email to UCC staff asking them to consider renting their spare rooms to students and to encourage their family and friends to also consider housing students.
Mulcahy appealed to staff due to the fact that 40 UCC students were still without accommodation in the second week of the academic year. It was reported that many students are staying in B&Bs, hostels or sleeping on couches while they search for more long-term housing to accommodate them for the full academic year.
With rising rents and a lack of purpose-built student accommodation, rent prices have become increasingly burdensome on students, and the homelessness crisis continues to deepen across the country. Some universities have found that they are oversubscribed each year as demand for rooms outstrips their limited supply.
The pressure on international students and those who live too far away to commute has lead to a number of students deferring their college places until they can find affordable accommodation, or even dropping out entirely. The lack of affordable student housing is an enormous barrier to accessing education in Ireland, where fees are already the second highest in Europe, after Italy.
The problem extends beyond Dublin and Cork. The Department of Education figures have shown that demand for student accommodation in Limerick is expected to outnumber supply by more than 2,169 students by 2019. This has led universities across the country to try and tackle the housing crisis in a variety of ways. At the ‘Raise the Roof” rally last week, USI stated “For years we’ve been saying that there is a massive issue. We could see that there is a 2% increase in the students attending college coming year on year…and yet the numbers of student houses and beds were not being build to match the need.”
In 2017, TCDSU and UCDSU relaunched a campaign with Daft.ie to secure student accommodation, asking homeowners to rent their spare rooms as digs accommodation. Under a Union of Students in Ireland (USI) scheme, supported by the Department of Education, those who host students in digs can earn up to €14,000 in non-taxable income under the rent-a-room relief tax break.
TCDSU have also condemned Airbnb’s priority of tourists over residents in Ireland who are in dire need of housing, and have been actively critical of overpriced student accommodation. TCDSU have previously denounced Kavanagh Court, owned by a private student accommodation company Uninest Student Residences, for charging 950 per month for a room.
Last year, UCDSU went undercover to expose the substandard conditions of properties advertised to students and the extortionate costs which were being charged, many of which did not have the option to sign a lease or contract. Practices such as these are expected to worsen as rent prices have skyrocketed above the peak of the Celtic Tiger. Average Dublin rents have gone up by 12.4% in the past year, and Galway has faced a 13.6% increase.
In August, Maynooth Students’ Union protested high rent prices when the Students Union President, Leon Diop, removed a property advertisement from a Maynooth students accommodation page due to it being too expensive. The room was advertised for 600 per month. On Twitter, he wrote “a landlord trying to charge 150 weekly in Maynooth. I remember a time when that was two weeks rent.”
UCD Students’ Union has also refused to advertise some student digs due to homeowners overcharging students. UCDSU President, Barry Murphy, told the Irish Times that the Union has refused to advertise digs in places such as Ailesbury Road and Killiney that were looking to rent out spare rooms for over 1,000. “As far as we’re concerned, they’re taking advantage of students because they know demand is far outstripping supply,” he said.
In the past month, several housing protests have taken place around the country. In September, students from UCC and Cork Institute of Technology protested the lack of student accommodation as well as rent prices in Cork. UCC Students’ Union President, Alan Hayes, told the Evening Echo that “families are having to take out loans on top of mortgages to put their children through college and that’s not acceptable.”
On 3rd October, an estimated 10,000 people attended the Raise The Roof rally at Leinster House. Speaking at the rally, USI President Síona Cahill criticised the government for the “complete lack of planning” which has led to the crisis.
Calling students to action, she added: “This is the social justice issue of our generation, a locked out generation. We must demand better, and not settle for less.”