Student Accommodation & Housing Crisis

“Accommodation” – It’s that abominable word that’s on every student’s tongue.  It’s an inconvenience for those who can afford it, and it’s a truly daunting task for those who cannot keep up with the ruthless property market and its high prices. What are the government doing to help students out? How are UCDSU handling the crisis? And what exactly is going on with Dublin’s housing market? I’m here to explain the ins and outs of the market and how us students got landed in this unfortunate mess.

In a recent publication from The Economist last month, data suggests that property in Dublin is overvalued by 25%. This means that students are having to pay significantly more than what they should be. This is down to a range of different factors, one being the Celtic Tiger: that infamous era in recent Irish history, spanning the early 1990’s up to the 2008 financial crash, where Ireland lived in this crazed alternate reality where money was never a major issue and the banks were giving out loans with little regulation from the state. One result of this period is the current housing crisis that us students have been landed with. Between 1995 and 2005 new house prices in Dublin increased by 305%. In fact, Ireland had the highest rate of house price inflation in the developed world between 1997 and 2005. During this same period, average earnings increased by only 58%, with inflation increasing by a meagre 35%. Since the crash, the country has improved its public debt and is no longer in an official recession. The one catch is, Ireland hasn’t been building housing since the crash to such an extent that would meet the growing population of Ireland, this is especially evident with the urban population in Dublin.

Since the property bubble crashed in Ireland, there hasn’t been large demand to build housing, so we simply haven’t kept up with Dublin’s growth in population, which is beginning to show in recent years with the current housing crisis. With a growing city like Dublin, paired up with a stagnant affordable property market, the supply simply can’t meet the demand, pushing prices up to an extraordinary level. As per usual, this is significantly affecting the lowest income individuals in our society first: the working class, first-time homeowners and college students.

With regards to rental property in Dublin, in the fourth quarter of 2017, the average monthly rental price nationwide was €1,227, and €1,869 in Dublin. With prices in the continuous rise with no end in sight, will private landlords soon price out college students altogether? There is a unanimous feeling of anger on the UCD campus, with students being forced to pay enormous amounts of money on and off campus. Due to UCD Belfield’s location in South County Dublin, students must find property in more affordable area’s and commute large amounts each day. The average monthly rent in Q4 of 2017 in South County Dublin was €1,995 and €1,520 in North County Dublin. The average monthly rent was almost €400 more than its peak during the Celtic Tiger, despite efforts from the government with the introduction of rental controls in 2016 which limit increases to 4% fixed rental price for two years.

Prices are on the rise for rental accommodation, and they’re not stopping yet, so what are some alternatives? Dublin natives are staying at home during college more and more, to the extent that its quite surprising to meet one that lives away from home during their undergraduate studies. Could we see cultural shift to that of Spain, where it’s become a societal norm to live at one’s home until their 30’s? Those living at home in Dublin sure have avoided getting stuck in this mess with the rest of us. The option for “Digs” is becoming increasingly popular, with students opting to rent out a room in a homeowner’s house. One unfortunate complication is that there is no official legislation regulating this process. For a more affordable option relative to renting a property, it comes with its risks.

To find out more about what the UCD Student’s Union is doing to combat the current housing crisis, I interviewed UCDSU President Barry Murphy on the matter. When asked about what the SU is doing to help students with accommodation, he responded:
“‘CDSU made a strategic decision last year to continue the investment in our Accommodation Officer here on our corridor, that individual acts as a middle person between students looking for accommodation, and also liaises with homeowners looking to let out spare rooms or landlords looking to let out house shares. They match suitable tenants and suitable homeowners and they match suitable tenants together, so we may have two students entering first year science without knowing each other, we would then match them together and then match them with a homeowner who has two rooms available in a ‘digs unit’. That role also offers legal advice to anyone who is struggling around issues with their landlord and their rights.’

Murphy went on to mention that last year the SU did a lot of undercover investigating into the property market through a campaign called ‘House Hunters’, where they uncovered ‘substandard accommodation’: ‘In that undercover investigation we found that there was no avenue for an individual viewing a property to report substandard accommodation.’ He went on to explain that the county council can only interfere if there is a health and safety issue with the property, and not solely if the state of the property is highly undesirable. ‘In conversations with the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy last summer, we would have been advocating for them to improve their reporting procedures for students or any individual who has experienced sub-standard accommodation, and he gave us a commitment to do that’.

Murphy also went on to explain that there is no legislation between a homeowner and a tenant in a digs situation. He expressed a great desire to change this: ‘There is no legislation, no intervention from the government to legislate the relationship between someone letting out digs and the tenant. That clearly needs to be changed, its something that we are lobbying the government on. We are also lobbying university management to lobby the government through all means that they have in conversations between the minister for housing and the minister for higher level education’.

I asked Murphy about the new on-campus accommodation that is being currently built, which he replied saying this will be for “international students” and built to a “European standard”. No price has yet been set on the new accommodation but the added income for UCD will positively affect the remaining on-campus accommodation. He went on to say: “With the construction of the new Res masterplan, all current accommodation is going to become cheaper.” This news is a step in the right direction for students and should financially alleviate those who are lucky enough to get on-campus accommodation in the future.

Murphy suggested that those who are struggling financially with regards to accommodation should contact their SU Accommodation officer, know their rights as a tenant, and while looking for a property they must be organised: “because the demand is so high and the supply is so low, what’s happening is students are nearly selling themselves to landlords rather than landlords selling a property to a student tenant.” This rings true for many students who have gone through this process before. So aside from lobbying the government and managing directly with students, what is UCDSU doing to physically campaign for better affordable housing in Dublin?

Recent events on 11th September from North Frederick street in Dublin, where masked Gardai forcibly removed activists from an unoccupied building flared into a mass protest on 12th September, have shown that movements like TakeBackTheCity can channel the anger from students over the housing crisis. The UCDSU released a public statement of support to the activists, including the following statement: “The same government that has been sitting on their hands, waiting for the housing crisis to solve itself, have in last night’s events, allowed the beating and harassment of peaceful protesters to occur. They responded to a situation they have caused with violence. How can we stand for this?” UCDSU will be joining multiple other university groups and lobby groups in Dublin on October 3rd for a demonstration march.

In recent years, Dublin has seen the rise of high-end luxury accommodation. Multiple sites have opened around the city from various competing private companies. The pricing for these student apartments are significantly higher than the average rent per person in Dublin. The major downside from luxury student accommodation, is that most students cannot afford it. During a housing crisis due to a lack of supply, the solution isn’t to supply housing that is extremely expensive. The housing crisis is at a stage where students are now paying for these places, some may have little other choice.

Another effect of the housing crisis is consequently the homeless crisis, with numbers of homeless in Ireland at an astounding 9,891 in July 2018. The number of families becoming homeless increased by 24% since July 2017. Accommodation affects much more than college students, it is a national issue that affects everybody. These homeless individuals are not going to go away, there is a real issue with housing in Ireland and the government is failing to keep up with this crisis.

The property market is certainly picking up after the 2008 crash, but seemingly in all the wrong places. Affordable housing is scarce, which is driving up the prices even more for students. Campaigns are rising, and the people are not happy, the government is going to be in for a ride until this housing crisis is solved, something that doesn’t look like it will be solved by the markets, but real government intervention. There is certainly an air of anger surrounding housing and accommodation, and from the sounds of things, it’s not going away any time soon.

 

By Conor Capplis – Features Editor

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