“I think it will be worse than ever” – The Irish Times

Patrick Curtin is worried. As student union president at South East Technological University’s Waterford campus, he is bracing for a surge in demands to find scarce accommodation in a matter of weeks. The first signs are not good.

The beds on campus are full. Private rental housing is thin on the ground. In recent days, he has spoken with hotels in the area to see if they can offer student-friendly deals in September.

“It’s not a long-term solution, but it’s a fallback option for students who can’t find anywhere to stay,” he says.

A Covid-related housing shortage and student dig, the pressure to welcome Ukrainian refugees and the late allocation of places in colleges for the first years have created what many consider to be a perfect storm this year.

“I think the student housing crisis will be worse than ever,” Curtin says. “We are a university, now, which can see a rise in demand. Many private dwellings no longer exist; it was sold or used for Airbnb…some landlords were also hesitant to rent rooms for digs due to Covid.

Last year, he said, housing shortages meant some students had to travel daily from as far away as the Midlands and Dublin.

Given the high cost of fuel, he worries about how the commuting students will fare this year. First-year students, who are due to start university a few weeks later than the others, will especially be in a last-minute scramble to find a bed.

“The best way to describe the situation is a mess. Students have been let down by the government…our advice is to start looking early,” Curtin says.

The student housing shortage crisis is not new. Facing similar controversies, the government launched a National Student Housing Strategy in July 2017 aimed at supporting the development of purpose-built units.

Figures indicate that it managed to provide thousands of additional beds mostly in the private sector, although many looked like boutique hotels with high rents. Many of them were aimed at the more lucrative international student market.

However, production has since slowed. The latest data indicates that more than 40 separate student accommodation projects have obtained planning permission, capable of providing around 10,500 beds. However, universities say many on-campus projects are stuck in limbo. The rising cost of construction means they would be forced to charge exorbitant rents to students in order to break even.

For example, more than two years ago, Dublin City University received planning permission for a 1,240-bed student village to meet growing demand for accommodation at its Glasnevin campus.

Work has not yet started. The university estimated last year that it should have charged students up to €16,000 a year, nearly three times the cost of its other on-campus accommodation.

DCU President Professor Daire Keogh said the university has explored many different avenues to make it economically viable, but is concerned the outlook is about to get worse.

“As inflation continues to rise and the expected increases in interest rates by the European Central Bank are introduced, housing projects for our students will become even more uneconomic for the university…” he says .

“While we already have building permits and tender documents ready to be launched, it must be recognized that it would take three years for all the planned rooms to be delivered. There is no quick fix to this problem.

One option that universities say could unlock these projects is state funding. Under this model, the state would partly finance developments in exchange for guarantees on affordable rents.

Further and Further Education Minister Simon Harris is said to be in talks with government colleagues about such a model and how it could work.

In the case of the student village planned by the DCU, Keogh says a 50% capital cost subsidy is the “only realistic solution” so that rooms can be provided to students at affordable rent.

“A decision on a grant is therefore urgently required because in the meantime the situation will only get worse. The housing shortage for students is part of the broader housing problem. More halls of residence are only a small part of solving the housing crisis,” he says.

Regardless of what happens, many of the planned beds on college campuses will take years to deliver.

This means that the options available to the government – ​​or universities – are limited to increase accommodation options by September.

One of the ideas being considered is an attempt to launch the room rental program and market it more aggressively.

While the pandemic meant many households were reluctant to explore this option last year, policymakers are hoping the rising cost of living will prompt more people to consider renting rooms this year to supplement their income. Owners can earn income of up to €14,000 tax-free under the scheme.

Another option is to cushion the costs of returning to university by reducing the €3,000 student contribution change in the September budget and improving student grants which 42% of students receive.

Given that the estimated monthly cost of living for students living away from home in the capital is just under €1,500 this year, according to a new cost of living guide from TU Dublin, every penny will count .

To access. to affordable housing, however, remains a burning issue. Shannon Technological University (TUS) Board Chair Josephine Feehily expressed concern about the impact these issues will have on college life.

Student beds are not just a place to sleep, she said, but the key to building a positive campus culture where students can rejoin societies and don’t arrive “exhausted and go home on their own.” evening”.

In the meantime, student leaders like Patrick Curtin in Waterford fear the worst.

“Last year when we posted a message on Facebook offering help for students,” he says. “I got about 100 messages in 12 hours from students and parents who couldn’t find anywhere… You wonder, this year some will end up postponing instead.”

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