4,400 family homes could be freed up rooms for students

Nearly 4,400 family homes could be freed up for the rental market by 2020 under proposals by universities to add 10,000 student bed spaces to those already in the pipeline.

However, Department of Finance reservations about some of the tax measures needed to support the developments are among several potential barriers.

The possibility of delivering nearly 13,200 student bed spaces, 10,000 more than those currently under construction or being planned, was put forward by the Irish Universities Association.

It detailed the plans to Housing Minister Simon Coveney in June, ahead of his publication in July of the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland housing strategy.

The universities’ submission, released by the Department of Education under the Freedom of Information Acts, was in response to Mr Coveney’s request for ambitious plans from the universities to boost the availability of student accommodation.

“The additional 13,166 bed spaces could potentially free up 4,388 three-bedroom houses in the general rental market,” wrote University of Limerick director of finance John Field, who chairs the universities’ association chief finance officers group.

Reaching this target would more than double the existing stock of 11,300 university-managed student bed spaces to nearly 24,500 in four years.

A Higher Education Authority report last year flagged the shortfall each year of spaces for 25,000 students when places in dedicated student accommodation are filled. It said growing student numbers would almost cancel out the impact of nearly 10,000 spaces in projects already being planned.

For all the extra capacity to be provided at rents affordable to students, the association says necessary measures include reduced Vat rates, tax incentives, or capital grants.

Less restrictive building regulations for student accommodation and the waiving of council planning fees or development contributions have also been proposed. The Department of Education is leading a cross-departmental working group set up a year ago to deal with supply issues raised by the HEA. Officials told Mr Coveney in May the group was working with Department of Finance officials to examine potential incentivisation measures, tax reliefs, or both in Budget 2017 to help stimulate investment.

“However, the initial feedback from [Department of] Finance has not been positive as their initial views are that there is no particular evidence of ‘market failure’ given the planned developments both public and private,” a Department of Education official said.

The biggest scope for additional spaces is at UCD, which says it could add 2,500 beds, with another 2,300 at Maynooth University, and nearly 1,600 at NUI Galway.

The ability to add just 300 extra student bed spaces has been identified by Dublin City University, but it already has plans to add 850 to its existing stock of 1,330 beds. UCC only proposes to add 200 spaces, but it has existing plans for 350 spaces on top of its stock of 1,100 in four facilities.

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