SPECIAL REPORT: Accommodation crisis affects students for the second year running

Less accommodation available this year than last year… and for a higher price per month

  • Daft reports serious decrease in number of available properties
  • Prices have increased by €100 over the past two years
  • Student party reputation putting landlords of letting their properties
  • USI warns students to be careful with digs
  • Homeowners encouraged to rent rooms to students
Large image USI

USI launched their homes.usi.ie website in an attempt to match students up with landlords and alleviate the accommodation crisis.

The lack of housing in Galway City has reached crisis point with hundreds of students still without accommodation for the coming academic year.

The Higher Education Authority published a report which estimates an unmet demand of 25,000 bed spaces in total for students including international and Erasmus students.

The report also notes that the shortage of student accommodation is particularly high in Dublin, Galway and Cork. Accommodation in other university and college towns are apparently “adequate to meet demand” however students of these institutions have said otherwise.

NUI Galway’s Students’ Union President Phelim Kelly said; “This is not news. The national students union pointed this problem out many years ago and public representatives were made aware of their respective constituencies.

“The housing crisis has been getting increasingly worse over the last number of years and students are particularly affected by this. Rent has gone up while the demand of housing is constantly going up with the new surge of students.”

A recently-published report conducted by Daft (daft.ie) detailed the decrease in properties available on their website. Only 4,600 properties were available to rent on August 1 compared to the 6,800 available on the same date in 2014; and the 23,000 properties listed on the same date in 2009.

Speaking to the Galway Independent, County Councillor Mary Hoade said; “The scale of the accommodation crisis in Galway is extremely worrying, and there is a genuine fear that many students will have a battle on their hands to get a quality, affordable place to stay.  Unless urgent action is taken, we could see a situation whereby students are unable to attend third level courses because they can’t find anywhere to live.

“It is vitally important that new measures are introduced to ensure that new student accommodation is built in Galway, and in other towns and cities with third level institutions.”

Plans have been made by NUI Galway to build five- and four-storey student residences in the Upper Newcastle area. Although this was met with controversy when a group called Concerned Newcastle Residents expressed their dismay with the plans.

The rapidly decreasing number of properties available plus the increasingly high demand means those lucky enough to have a roof over their head are certainly paying for it. The same report states that private rental prices have increased by 10 percent in the last year.

Regarding students, monthly private rental prices have dramatically increased respectively by over €100 in the last two years. Kim Regan, a final year Arts student told Sin; “When I was in first year in 2012, I rented with four others in a house at €300 a month.

“It was the same in second year. But last year was when I first experienced the hike, with rent costing me about €360 a month. This year, however, I’m paying €430 in a four bed – and it’s down the road from my first place back in 2012. That was the most affordable place that would take students at the time”.

When asked about the raising rental prices, SU President Phelim Kelly stated; “I do believe students are being taken advantage of. If a student somehow manages to get a house, they are faced with ridiculous rent which is totally unjustified. Many houses are not even fit for study with some having mould, etc.”

Sin contacted members of the Facebook group ‘House Hunting Galway (for sound people)’ – an online social media page with over 16,000 members. Since early August, the group has been inundated with posts of incoming first year, final year and postgraduate students desperate for accommodation.

One member of the page, Fiona Hennigan, stated; “I have been looking for accommodation for my son for three weeks. He’s first year GMIT. I could probably get something if I paid upwards of €100 but I can’t afford that. The most I can pay weekly would be €70 and this is proving impossible to find. I had found two and was promised them both but got let down at the last minute.

“We live in Donegal so it’s a long way to go for a viewing, to then be told you can’t have it! I don’t know what to do at this stage.”

As reported by the Connacht Tribune, accommodation at Gort Na Coiribe student village sold out in seven hours in February.

The housing crisis is a nationwide issue, not just for students but for families and working professionals alike.

Maria Laura, a working professional living in Galway says that people in her age group (early to late thirties) have been just as severely affected by the crisis; “I have witnessed that lots of my friends had to move out last year, because their landlords were selling the house. I think this is part of the problem.”

Landlords have furthermore expressed their reluctance to rent to students with a growing trend to explicitly state “No pets. No students” in letting advertisements.

Speaking about students, Maria Laura added; “I understand students’ struggle but their reputation comes first and I experienced lot of bad things because of them.

“I used to live beside what is now The Electric Garden, and believe me when I say that there were people pissing outside my door seven days out of seven (sometimes groups of three). There was vomit on the door pad at least four times a week, and I still had to put my fingers on it in order to enter the property. I am sympathetic with them, but at the same time, it’s hard to put up with all that.”

Students across the country have had to make compromises when renting a property with some taking 12 month leases instead of the standard nine months of the academic year.

Similarly other groups such as mature students, families and the unemployed have made similar compromises by renting Monday to Friday only. This is a particular occurrence in cities such as Galway, Cork and Dublin.

Other alternatives include commuting long distances to college. Figures from the the Irish League of Credit Unions state that 62 per cent of students have chosen to commute compared to only 44 per cent in 2013. However the cost of commuting is now the most expensive it has ever been after several frequent hikes in transport fares over the last five years.

The Union of Students Ireland (USI) Vice President for the Border, Midlands and Western Region Feidhlim Seoighe, an alumnus of NUI Galway, said that “one of the biggest issues for students returning, or coming for the first time, to NUI Galway is the fact that student accommodation is difficult to find, which means that alternative arrangements might have to be made, for example the decision to live in Digs”.

Digs is an alternative accommodation arrangement where homeowners take in lodgers, who generally rent a room and board.

Although Mr Seoighe urges students to be cautious when arranging Digs as “they are not afforded the same protection as those living as tenants”.

“Communication is key and it is a good idea to set out the living conditions; whether it will be a five or seven day lease, and if board (meals) will be included in the price, early on. This situation may suit some students, for example first years living away from home for the first time.”

Mr Seoighe and the USI have “been working all summer to try and get as many homeowners to let out rooms to students”.

In attempt to address and help resolve the lack of housing, the USI distributed over 21,000 flyers which advertised the ‘rent-a-room relief’ scheme according to a statement on their website dated August 19. The scheme entitles property owners “to a tax-free €12,000 relief if they rent a room to a lodger, and in turn may encourage homeowners to house students”.

USI President Kevin O’Donoghue said that within the first day, 30 homeowners showed an interested in the ‘rent-a-room relief’ scheme with regards to students.

“One taxi driver said to me it was ‘empty nest syndrome’. He himself was doing it,” he said.

NUI Galway’s Students’ Union will also engage with and encourage homeowners in Galway to rent to students. In tangent with that, the SU will continue lobbying local representatives “to get this issue addressed by our government” Mr Phelim Kelly told Sin.

His advice to students is to “check out threshold and not to haltingly sign any lease for fear of not getting accommodation. That last thing you need is to be stuck in some overpriced dive which you won’t be able to study in”.

The USI has recently published the Accommodation and Finance for Students Guide which can be picked up in the Students’ Union in Áras na Mac Léinn.

By Jenna Hodgins

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