Costs, Constraints, Crisis
by Pierre Yimbog,
President, Technological University Dublin Student Union
Students renting accommodation remain at the mercy of the critically undersupplied Irish rental market and it’s having a negative impact on their studies, wellbeing, and future. So far this year, we have seen no improvements in the accommodation crisis, as evidenced by this quarter’s Daft Rental Report.
Though several options are being discussed in the media, no tangible realistic solution has yet materialised. That means that this year’s record number of CAO applicants, as well as the students progressing to their next year of study, will once again swap summer exam anxiety for the stress of a frantic search for accommodation – a basic need – in a critically undersupplied and financially inflated rental market.
There are currently 75,500 students living in Dublin. According to property company, CBRE, it is estimated that the number of bed-spaces provided in Purpose Built student and University accommodation amounts to under 14,000. At present, there are thousands of students on university campus accommodation waiting lists. TU Dublin has yet to implement its plans for on-campus student accommodation, and with each day that goes by, there seems to be more of the unaffordable Purpose Built Student Accommodation popping up around the Grangegorman campus, which will house a further 10,000 students in less than 15 months.
Figures from Daft.ie’s 2019 Q2 Rental Report show that on May 1st 2019 there were just 2,700 homes available to rent nationwide, the lowest number on record since 2006. Furthermore, the average monthly rent increased by 4.5% in the past year to €1,391. Even those eligible for a grant from SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland), a high proportion of which attend TU Dublin, the average maintenance allocation of €2,375 does not cover rent in purpose built student accommodation or even privately rented housing.
TU Dublin SU, along with other Students Unions and the Irish Government continue to focus on ‘digs’ and the Rent-a-Room scheme (which allows people to rent out a room in their home and earn up to €14,000 tax free) to alleviate pressure from the crisis this year. Digs are, however, an interim and less-than-perfect solution. While some offer rooms at just €100 – €125 per week, many are only available on a five days per week basis, and stipulate that students travel home each weekend. This is obviously not suitable for international students and can cause stress as students are forced to have time away from crucial campus facilities, such as the library, as well as making it particularly difficult to find part-time work.
Another worrying trend is the rise in reports of homeless students who have ended up ‘couch surfing’ or, in extreme cases, sleeping in cars. This is a troubling development for Students’ Unions and University Services to grapple with, and will undoubtedly feature once again this year. There is also an anticipated ripple effect of Brexit. There has been a 18.5% drop in Irish students applying for universities in the UK and are instead choosing to study at home. There is also a reported increase in international students applying to study at Irish universities in Ireland, the majority of which at Postgraduate level. Besides Malta, Ireland will be the only English-speaking state in the EU, which will of course add further pressure to an already stretched supply of affordable rental options.
The proposed plans for large numbers of Build-to-Rent projects will also do little to unburden students as these facilities tend to be high quality, expensive, and built with middle to high income professionals in mind. Many of these Build-to-Rent properties are expected to be on the market by 2023, but the crisis is now and we need swifter action from the Government.
University is not just a time for academic learning; it is a time for personal growth and
development, forming life-long friendships, acquiring new interests, living independently for the first time, gaining new experiences, and for some, getting their first part time job. A student’s educational journey does not just pause at the end of every lecture – it continues into the evenings and weekends at Society events, Students’ Union activism and participation in sports, as well as social activities with friends and classmates. The housing crisis means that these experiences will be off-limits for many students this year.
Is there a solution?
In the upcoming budget in October, Student Unions and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) are asking the Government to do the following – establish public housing authorities to build AFFORDABLE student accommodation and provide capital grants to Institutions to build on-campus student accommodation. We also need a major increase in the supply of AFFORDABLE Purpose-Built student accommodation. Rents in most of the recently built units average over €1,000 per month, and while they have all sorts of deluxe features, such as cinemas, gyms and games rooms, they remain beyond the budgets of most students.
We need enough AFFORDABLE units to drive up supply that will in turn drive down demand and costs so that the only stress one associates with university is a healthy amount of exam nerves – not where to find or how to afford a space to live.
The very landscape of Ireland’s future workforce, and on a more human level, the personal development of Irish students has been negatively compromised in a major way by the accommodation crisis. If the current crisis continues without a sufficient response from the Government, students will be taking a stronger approach to making our needs heard – so watch this space!