Autumn of discontent: Students priced out of rental market ahead of new college semester

Another autumn of discontent awaits college students as the scramble for scarcer and dearer accommodation is tougher than in any of the last 10 years.

While more schemes are being developed and opened this summer, growing student numbers means many of the 25,000 who do not get into purpose-built accommodation are being priced out of the private rental market.

The recent Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) student living guide shows average student rents nearly back at 2007 peaks, after rising 6% in the past year nationally.

But they are up 10% since 2015 in Dublin where the average student room will cost €460 a month, but with city centre prices at up to €1,000.

In a flashback to the pre-crash property boom trend of ‘buying-off-plan’, rooms in some new Dublin student residences have already been booked out months before completion.

A number of institutions are planning to build more on-campus student facilities, but one project took a blow last week when Trinity College Dublin was refused permission by An Bord Pleanála for nearly 300 new bed spaces.

With colleges and student unions appealing to homeowners to offer digs or room-only rentals, efforts to increase awareness of tax-free earnings will be stepped up this week.

Leaving Certificate students will get their results in a fortnight, leading to the main rush for college places beginning over the following week when around 40,000 people accept offers from the Central Applications Office (CAO).

Union of Students in Ireland (USI) president Annie Hoey said the only short-term solution is to have more private homeowners let rooms to students without paying tax on the rent. This option, she said, is still not widely known to most people living near campuses or in college towns.

Annie Hoey
Annie Hoey

“It’s all about getting the information to homeowners who have a spare room and get them thinking about renting it out,” said Ms Hoey.

While a Higher Education Authority (HEA) report last September recommended a major awareness campaign on this issue, the Department of Education’s only response has been to fund an existing USI website aimed at matching homeowners with lodgers.

The department is leading a cross-government group looking at some of the bigger issues, as well as being tasked with oversight of the longer-term issues by the recent Rebuilding Ireland housing strategy.

The plan is to have 7,000 places for students, over and above projects already committed to, by 2019 , with colleges being assisted by new funding schemes.

A new student housing officer will be appointed to co-ordinate the work of student unions, councils, housing bodies and others. Projects of 100 places or more are to bypass local authority planning and go straight to An Bord Pleanála.

But Ms Hoey said the problems of supply are exasperated for students by the failure of college grants to keep pace with rising rents.

“The freeze on grants, the removal of grants to postgraduates, and changes to the distance students have to live from college for higher payments, have been very blunt instruments to wallop students,” she said.

She said DIT’s estimate of €11,000 a year to go to college may be an underestimation, and only reflects the situation outside Dublin.

Regardless, she said, it compares very poorly to the €3,000 maximum paid to most grant recipients, who now account for half of all third-level students.

The University of Limerick attributes its push for local homeowners to let out rooms to the difficulty students have been having with finding places near the college this autumn.

“We have had significant demand on accommodation services compared to previous years, directly relating to a lack of private rented accommodation near the campus,” said John O’Rourke, general manager of UL’s campus life services.

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