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Housing situation for Erasmus students coming to Ireland 'has never been so dire'

The head of Ireland’s Erasmus network said that foreign students are finding it impossible to move here

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

PANICKED AND DESPERATE students coming to Ireland on exchange programmes have been contacting Ireland’s Erasmus organisation as they are unable to find anywhere to live ahead of their arrival.

Cliona Peters, President of Erasmus Student Network Ireland (ESN), told The Journal that the organisation is receiving dozens of emails and social media messages a day from European students who can’t secure accommodation.

Volunteers at ESN have been overwhelmed with requests for help since July, some of them coming from the parents of students who are intervening out of increasing concern that their child will not find a place to live when they get to Ireland.

Erasmus is a European Union exchange programme that allows students to study in another European country for one or two semesters.

Since Brexit, the UK has withdrawn from the programme so a large volume of students seeking to learn English has been travelling to Ireland.

During her four years working for ESN, Peters says she has never seen the situation “so dire”. For the first time, students are citing a lack of accommodation as their reason for cancelling their Erasmus, she added. 

“They don’t want to get here and be homeless. It’s difficult for Irish students to find a place to stay but Erasmus students are at a disadvantage, they don’t know anyone in the country.”

She said there has also been an increase in the number of students who have been scammed by paying for accommodation and deposits in advance of their flight here – only for the rental to not exist. 

Shame to Ireland

In fact, the number of students begging the ESN for help because they’ve been scammed is almost as common as the tens of emails looking for somewhere to stay, largely because some Erasmus students are unfamiliar with rental law in Ireland.

“Scammers are targeting desperation and no one is more desperate than someone about to arrive in a foreign country. They are easy pickings,” Peters explained. 

She believes the situation is damaging Ireland’s reputation in other countries as young people return home and speak of their negative experiences here.

“We are sending Irish students out to the rest of Europe and they are being welcomed and housed and taken care of. But when students come here we can’t do the same for them. It’s embarrassing for Ireland.”

Christine O’Mahony, vice president for Diversity and Inclusion on the DCU Students’ Union is also a member of ESN Ireland’s national board, and has seen the extent of the crisis in both of her jobs.

Part of O’Mahony’s voluntary work requires her to post out ESN cards to DCU Erasmus students, but she has noticed a significant amount of people on her mailing list who have changed or removed their address.

“People will do it because they just got scammed so the address they put down isn’t even where they live and they just have stay with friends for the time being. I’m seeing it a lot that people don’t have a permanent place to live and it’s already mid September, the semester is beginning. Or they’ve just given up and gone home.”

Last month, the French Embassy here warned new arrivals, including students, of a severe housing crisis that would make it difficult for them to find accommodation.

It also warned of “sharp increase in rents, which are currently much more expensive than in Paris”.

A report by ECA International last year found that Dublin had the fifth-highest rent in Europe, one spot above Paris, with the average rental cost of a three-bedroom city centre home at €3,713 per month.

Laura, a French student studying in Trinity College, experienced her embassy’s warning first-hand when she had to pay €400 to stay in a family’s spare room for 10 days when she arrived to Ireland in August.

Abuse of power

She had been looking for accommodation since April and shortly before she was due to arrive she signed a contract through an online property site to stay there on a temporary basis while she viewed apartments.

“They can cancel at least a week or even less before you arrive. And it happened to some of my friends. So until five or so days before I arrived, I was hoping that they would still let me in,” Laura recalled.

Adrien, a French student who attends Dublin Business School, had to spend over €200 for three nights in a shared hostel room while he looked for more permanent places to live.

He described the hostel as “mouldy” but counts himself luckier than the seven French students he knows who cancelled their Erasmus here because they found nowhere to live while looking for accommodation throughout the summer.

Meanwhile, onn Laura’s last day staying with the family she found a place to stay in Dublin but this still had its issues.

Her landlord was living in the same house and the vulnerability and lack of options that Erasmus students have is easily exploited, she said.

“I was threatened by my landlord to be out in the street like if I was not happy with the place. I left dishes in the sink for too long and it very quickly blew up into a problem where they said I would be out of the house if I didn’t follow their rules.

“I understand it is their house, but landlords sometimes really abuse their power because they know I have no choice and it was very disproportionate and unnecessary. I did some research so as to not be ignorant of the law here because that is the basis of abuse.”

Cody is a Scottish Erasmus student who studied in DCU from January to May through a University of Glasgow-based course that takes place in collaboration with several universities and was exempt from many of the Brexit-related limitations.

“Even though I worked I was permanently worried about money all the time, which really impacted my studies,” she said.

“For my course, we had the option of going to Italy depending on what we wanted to specialise in and speaking to the people who went to Italy, they were just so much better off than people like me who went here.”

How does Dublin compare to other cities?

She added that if she knew more about the housing market in Ireland before arriving she’d be very unlikely to have applied to study here.

“Especially when you combine the rent with the cost of living crisis, if you’re self funded and don’t have your family back home sending money, then you should probably go somewhere else.”

Peters, the president of Ireland’s Erasmus programme, said that French students in Ireland are often prone to being taken advantage of.

Due to the fact that it’s a popular language to study in secondary school here, many families who rent to French people will often include the prerequisite that they must give hours of grinds per week to their exam-age children.

O’Mahony said that in her work she has come across families renting a room on the basis that French, or less often Spanish or German, will be taught.

“They’re taking advantage of the fact that they’re from these countries to help their children with the Leaving Cert or Junior Cert.” 

This is in addition to rent, which in itself is often more than most students – especially Erasmus students – can afford.

Laura and Adrien’s home country offers rent supports to students, meaning that Irish students can receive up to €200 a month towards their rent as long as they spend more than one semester in France.

“I knew rent would be a problem before I arrived because I know every capital city is like this,” Laura explained.

“I’m not from Paris but it is the capital of my country and I knew the situation in Dublin was kind of similar, maybe even worse.”

Laura is aware of prejudice towards non-Irish people during the housing crisis, with some feeling as though they don’t deserve accommodation as much as natives.

While she hasn’t dealt with any discrimination herself, she removed her nationality from her personal information on rental sites for fear of landlords being biased against her, and has told other Erasmus students to do the same. 

One of her biggest curiosities about Ireland is how the housing crisis here got so bad.

“There’s not a lot of political actions. The future will be a very distressing situation, but I don’t feel like there are a lot of economic regulations put in place.”

“I’d advise people travelling to think twice about it before moving to Dublin, if they’re ready to contract a loan to live here. It’s a beautiful city full of life but it needs serious measures to regulate the market and to make sure the experience of studying here isn’t turning people broke by the end of the month.”

Cody went a step further, stating:

“I’ve lived in Sydney, Melbourne, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Sydney is renowned for being really really expensive as well, but I feel as though Dublin was the most I’ve ever spent. Especially for such a short amount of time. It was so expensive for four months so I can’t imagine being how people cope with it long-term.”

For the Irish students who will be here long-term, they have their own set of problems.

Last week a Trinity College student wrote for The Journal about her experiences renting and how others in third level weren’t showing up to class because they didn’t have accommodation in Dublin yet.

“It is disgraceful that in a developed country with world-renowned universities and high rates of progression to third-level education that students would miss out on even a moment of that education due to a lack of something as basic as a roof over their heads,” Mairéad Maguire said.

Tackled on the issue in the Dáil today, the Taoiseach said that the solution was for the government to intervene to help universities build more accommodation.

“There is an issue with student accommodation. The Minister for Higher Education is working with the Minister of Public Expenditure and universities in terms of building on the land – they have to bridge the gap between what they can build it for and what they can reasonably expect students to pay for it.”

“The government has to intervene, as we’ve done in housing.” 

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