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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 25 September, 2018
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'Most professionals couldn't afford it' - student unions applying rent caps to ads to try and tame the rental crisis monster

DIT student union has refused to endorse any property it believes is beyond the reach of the average student as the accommodation crisis rages on.

90426466_90426466 The former Montrose Hotel in Dublin, bought up by UK student accommodation providers Ziggurat in 2016 Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

IRELAND’S HOUSING CRISIS has become all-consuming.

With housing activists blocking Dublin’s main thoroughfare at rush hour, things have just gotten mainstream, if they weren’t already.

But in the capital, it’s not just professionals and those with families who are feeling the pinch of sky-high rents and a calamitous lack of supply.

Dublin may soon become a student-hub for those from Dublin and no one else, for what average student can afford to pay €1,000 a month in rent?

The various student unions around the city know all about this problem, and it’s one they’re attempting to do something about.

Last week, Dublin Institute of Technology SU announced that it would no longer be willing to endorse any properties advertised with it for students that it felt was outside the reasonable side of affordability.

Listings

The plight of students tends to take something of a backseat to the homelessness and general housing crises. But developments in recent times have nevertheless been sobering for the sector.

The issue was brought into sharp focus in April when a group of DCU students staged a number of protests as part of the Shanowen Shakedown campaign, combating plans by a private provider to hike rents by 27%.

Meanwhile, purpose-built (and very expensive) student residences are popping up all round the city.

Most of the colleges tend to promote accommodation off their own bat via internal listings, meaning that the best places to stay won’t always end up on Daft or Gumtree.

But those places can have just the same problem seen in the wider market – exorbitant prices, driven by desperate competition to secure somewhere to live in time for term.

“We have taken the decision not to give these type of developments any platform on campus,” said Pierre Yimbog, president of DIT SU upon announcing the initiative.

DIT’s threshold for allowing advertising isn’t abundantly clear, though in promoting its plan, it made clear that “€250 per week is beyond the reach of most DIT students”.

But setting a cap, admittedly an arbitrary one, is a slightly unique endeavour. The other major Dublin colleges are more focused on promoting digs (where a student lives-in with a family, or landlord, and has meals provided, often on a Sunday-thru-Thursday basis) as, if not the solution, then at least best practice.

“In general we try to steer towards digs, rather than purpose-built private accommodation,” says Róisín Putti from Trinity College’s accommodation services.

For rental adverts, Trinity has a cap of €600 per month in place, which somewhat undershoots the Union of Students in Ireland’s (USI) own limit of €180 per week.

Take Back the City activists protest Take Back The City activists engaged in a sit-down protest at the top of O'Connell Street on Tuesday of this week after being forcibly evicted from the occupied building on nearby North Frederick Street the previous night Source: RollingNews.ie

Not that Putti thinks digs are the answer.

“Digs should be a cheaper alternative, but you should still be able to afford rent on a lower budget,” she says.

Digs can’t solve the crisis, and loads won’t be filled. Most are Sunday to Friday, and that doesn’t cut it in this day and age.

“Morally uncomfortable”

She describes Trinity’s accommodation services as being in a “morally uncomfortable situation” having to advise others as to what the best they can do is.

“I’ve been on the phone with first years for over a month. They’re only finding out where they’ve gotten in a few weeks after the results. And they’re all asking should they opt elsewhere, or defer.”

UCD SU president Barry Murphy sees the ‘opt elsewhere’ problem as a major concern, while his own union’s stance is to “only advertise what’s fair, on a case by case basis, and we won’t advertise anything promoting certain hours only”.

“With digs you’ve got some homeowners taking advantage of the situation, like on the south side of the city you might have someone in Killiney or someplace similar putting a room up for €1,100 and saying that whoever comes in should feel privileged,” he says.

We’re saying no to that. But the fact remains we’re in the highest rent pressure zone in the country, and we’re seeing a distinctly two-tier level of accommodation coming on offer – sub-standard accommodation without any basic facilities and problems with sanitation that nevertheless still costs an arm and a leg, and purpose-built, far-too-expensive accommodation which is missing minimum standards.

“Like a place will have a cinema or daft luxuries that no one needs, but no oven. That needs to be changed, the government needs to intervene. But between substandard and silly luxuries, it’s hard to find the middle ground,” he says.

UCD SU, much like DCU across the city on the north side, sees digs as the least worst option.

“It’s not ideal, but if you could have a seven-day week with all bills and meals, then the value might just about make sense,” says Murphy.

Euro style

In UCD they’re going for the Euro style – 3,000 beds on campus with ensuites, but that’ve giving people options they’re not looking for. And for an Irish family, on top of maybe €3,750 in fees, a further spend of like €11k is just extortionate.

“But no doubt we’re seeing a trend developing, the people going to Dublin colleges are Dublin-based. They don’t have the cost of accommodation. Rural-based? Much less so,” he says.

student protest 751_90541559 Students staging a 'sleep-out' outside DCU accommodation Shanowen Hall following a 27% increase in rents in April Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Maybe in Cork, Galway, Limerick, you might be paying €600 a month but you’re getting a big double room with a decent desk. You’re getting value for money.

As always, the million dollar question is what’s the solution? It’s a question the country has been asking for years now.

“It all flies on supply,” says Vito Moloney Burke, president of DCU SU.

“There’s an accommodation crisis in full swing. We need grants, more building, dedicated rental apps, pressure zones and dedicated affordable accommodation.”

But the real emphasis has to be on capping rental costs. And that can’t happen overnight, like say fees. It’s important to keep the pressure on.

“We just need more housing, more affordable housing,” agrees Putti.  

Most professionals couldn’t afford what’s available at present. So how on earth are students supposed to?

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