As rent prices continue to increase in Dublin, students in UCD are feeling the full effect of the housing crisis in the city. The sheer size of the problem has left both university officials and UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) struggling to assist students in need.
One of the latest measures UCDSU has undertaken to tackle the crisis was securing an agreement with UCD Estate Services to launch a new shuttle bus service between the campus and Windy Arbour Luas Station. UCD Estate Services agreed to facilitate a trial run of the route over a month long period and said that the shuttle bus trial was to “test the viability of such service during term”.
The bus has been running twice a day as part of the trial. It leaves Windy Arbour at 8am and 9am each morning, and departing UCD at 4:10pm and 5:10pm each evening, Monday through Friday. While the announcement on UCDSU’s Facebook attracted nearly 200 likes and 50 shares, it is yet to be seen whether the shuttle bus will be a success. UCD Estate Services already operates a subsidised shuttle bus service to Sydney Parade Dart Station. It goes to and from O’Reilly Hall car park to the station at between 8am and 10am each morning, as well as 4pm to 6pm in the evening.
The Luas stop at Windy Arbour is part of the Luas’ Green Line, which runs from Cherrywood to St. Stephen’s Green. The shuttle bus has been serving as a link between the Luas line and UCD, offering students another route to take to college. Windy Arbour is about a 25-30 minute walk from the Clonskeagh entrance. Students often walk the distance to college as part of their daily commute.
UCD’s location in relation to the Luas line has been a contentious issue for over a decade, and the dispute goes back to when the blueprints for the Luas were originally made. In 2001, UCD submitted plans to the Dublin Transportation Office calling for the Luas to be extended out to UCD, based on the campus being regarded as “a major traffic node” in Dublin. The plan was rejected, and the Luas Green Line opened in June 2004, with Windy Arbour being the closest stop to the campus.
The shuttle bus plan was one of the main campaign promises of Marcus O’Halloran, the current President of UCDSU. In an interview with the College Tribune shortly after he won the presidential election, O’Halloran spoke of his plans of implementing a shuttle bus service. He said that it having such a service “opens up a lot of options for students. It means that students don’t have to solely live in the Donnybrooke, Clonskeagh and Stillorgan areas, and that students can go back further into town to find accommodation.” Back in March, he talked about how students “need to extend how far away we can live, to give students other options, because realistically the union can do very little to tackle the housing crisis in Dublin.”
However, he remains under pressure regarding the situation of on-campus accommodation, after questions were raised following the news that UCD Residences emailed students on September 11th to tell them they had a number of rooms available for students on campus. This revelation has come against a backdrop of two years of price rises for on-campus accommodation. Prices rose by 13% for the 2013/2014 year, and it was followed up by another hike last year.
As part of UCD’s Strategic Plan 2015-2020, there are plans to increase on-campus accommodation to around 5,000 spaces. The university has been claiming that the price hikes for existing accommodation are being used to fund the development of new units.
The problem facing O’Halloran is not a new one. UCDSU has struggled to in the past to deal with the problem. Last year, Feargal Hynes, then UCDSU President, had lobbied with the union for the return of the Section 50 tax relief scheme, which used to provide considerable rent relief for investors and universities who rented their accommodation. The measure was not re-introduced in Budget 2015.
Similar difficulties where encouraged when UCDSU asked the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) to allow for properties under its control near UCD to be made available for rent. NAMA released a statement on the issue, rebuking the union, and declared that it merely owned the loans on which the properties were secured, rather than the individual units themselves.
At present, the most likely source of political action to deal with the housing crisis appears to rest in the hands of Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, who is set to put new proposals to his colleagues. In a letter requesting a meeting with him about the issue, O’Halloran cited rising rent levels in areas around UCD and the price of on-campus accommodation as creating an “unenviable” situation for current students. The union is awaiting these proposals from the Minister.
Opposition parties have also gotten involved over the issue. One of the more ambitious claims has come from Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party, who said that RTÉ could be re-located from its headquarters and moved back into the city centre, and that the site could be re-developed for student accommodation. RTÉ’s headquarters is based on a 30 acre site in Donnybrook, just minutes away from UCD. Ryan claimed that the land could take “up to 5,000 students”, and that it could “put UCD, Trinity, DIT, DCU students together, and that would go a long way towards tackling the housing crisis students face in terms of trying to find rental property.” Ryan’s claims come from a National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) report which has noted that 20% of the site was undeveloped, another 20 per cent was used for car parking, while one-fifth of office space available was not in use.
Words by Cian Carton, News Editor