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Supply, and Student Housing

By Niamh Alexander.

Despite expectations due to the pandemic, the cost of student accommodation in Dublin has remained steady – and costly. Two semesters in the cheapest campus accommodation in UCD will set you back just over €8,000, with the most expensive coming in at almost €14,500, per annum. Sky-high costs can have the effect of pushing students towards private landlords, creating more demand in a market that is already at capacity. Private rentals also bring with them their own issues. With the average cost of a room in a shared property costing around €680 per month, according to a Student Housing Report done in 2020, rent is not much more affordable in private properties. There is also the fact that most private landlords will only accept a 12-month lease, meaning students can be stuck paying for accommodation in the summer months when college is finished. In the current market, landlords can get away with just about anything. I once viewed a room that was completely taken up by the bed and had no floor space at all. There have been accounts of rooms with just one bed sleeping two to three people. In 2017, the Government launched the National Student Accommodation Strategy – a scheme aiming to provide more purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) in a bid to free up private rental properties that would otherwise be occupied by students. The Higher Education Authority (HEA) estimates that 75,640 bed spaces will be required by 2024 to satisfy demand for student accommodation. It estimates that around 55,000 will be completed by this time. However, a report by Mitchell McDermott, a construction consultancy group, believes this “appears ambitious” due to the fall in construction activity during the pandemic. According to the report, around 3,500 units were built in 2020, and this is expected to fall to 1,600 in the coming year. However, according to Dr Lorcan Sirr, a housing lecturer at TU Dublin, supplying more PBSA is not the answer. “Some [PBSA][/PBSA] were looking for change of use even before the pandemic, which suggests to me that the market is oversupplied”, he says. The notion that supplying more PBSA is the best way to take students out of the private rental sector simply isn’t accurate. “Traditionally, Irish students don’t stay in student accommodation. Many attend college close to home and commute, and if they don’t, they typically stay in suburbia, along bus routes, mainly because it’s cheaper”, says Sirr. The key issue is that a lot of the accommodation is being supplied by profit-driven private companies. These companies have discovered a highly profitable, sometimes extortionate, business model: luxury purpose-built student accommodation. What little accommodation is being built is largely luxury accommodation out of the price range of the average family. Aparto is a private company with five student residences across Dublin city. Prices start at €210 per week for a shared room in its Dorset Point property, located a 20-minute walk from TU Dublin’s Grangegorman campus. The most expensive option is the Platinum Ensuite in Beckett House priced at €285 per week, meaning two semesters here will cost a shocking €11,685 in total. Many of Aparto’s properties boast amenities such as games rooms, gyms, and ‘stylish’ cinema rooms, which is exactly what every student working a minimum-wage, part- time job is looking for. Some even have ‘house pets’. The question that needs to be asked is, with so many students struggling to find reasonably priced accommodation, why has there been a surge in high – priced accommodation with such unnecessary luxuries? The answer, it seems, is international students. According to the HEA, in 2019, 12% of all students in Ireland were international students. However, a report conducted by EY found that international students represented 79% of the total students living in PBSA. Privately-owned PBSA is profit-driven and was never marketed to Irish students, but instead to wealthy overseas students, says Sirr. Developers can get away with charging international students three times the price they would Irish students. With so much uncertainty surrounding international students in Ireland post-Covid, the student accommodation market is extremely volatile. With fewer international students expected to