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“The thought of being homeless again is terrifying, it gives me nightmares”: Students struggle for college accommodation

By Ava Liange

After two consecutive years of COVID-19, online learning and postponed exams, the housing crisis is once again the main obstacle that prevents students from pursuing their studies. With the start of the new academic year just around the corner, it is becoming increasingly challenging for students to find accommodation near universities.

Many are confronted with the choice of commuting several hours a day to access their course, paying extortionate rent for on-campus accommodation, or turning to unregulated ‘digs’ accommodation. Faced with these choices, sacrifices on affordability and living conditions are often made.

“We’ve had to deal with mould and rodents”, Jamie Clarke, an Atlantic Technological University (ATU) student, explained to Village Magazine. “[Our landlord] said he’d paint the house with anti-mould paint and call in an exterminator, but they never came back to check in and it didn’t work so we had to deal with it ourselves”.

The housing crisis has become a great source of anxiety for students

“Every summer it’s like a déjà vu all over again as we wonder just how much worse matters can get”, says Molly Greenough, President of the Students’ Union at University College Dublin (UCD), following the release of their latest Accommodation Report. According to the new figures, around two-thirds of students pay up to €750 a month for student accommodation, considerably higher than a national average of €469 cited in a recent Higher Education Authority study.

“The acute shortage of beds is starting to have a seriously worrying impact on the pursuit of education”, continued Greenough, with the report highlighting how many students are forced into the private rental market where they pay market rates and compete with working professionals.

Due to inflationary pressures on the rental market and a lack of options for on-campus accommodation, more and more students are drawn to ‘digs’, where students rent a room in a house where the landlord lives.

While often times cheaper than the alternative, these arrangements leave the students with very few rights. ‘Digs’ don’t fall under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board meaning there are no minimum physical standards that the property must comply with and the restrictions on rent increases for other private rented accommodation do not apply.

Students have reported being denied access to facilities or certain areas of the house, landlords invading their privacy by entering their room unannounced or when they aren’t there, and being hit with unnotified rent increases. One student living in ‘digs’ last year described the experience as being treated like a burden rather than a person, while others said they felt “infantilised”.

The impact of this search for accommodation can be draining on students’ mental health. “There’s just a period of time when you’re searching for a house, and you’re losing time you could use doing assignments”, says Jamie. “It definitely affects your energy levels and how you’re able to focus on things”, he continues.

On top of affecting their studies, the housing crisis has become a source of anxiety for students. “The thought of being homeless again is terrifying”, says Brigid MacBrough, another student from ATU, “it gives me nightmares”.

Students who have to commute spend a large amount of time and money each day and find themselves exposed to anxiety as well, “The last year of college I tried to find accommodation, but I couldn’t so I had to commute for three hours a day”, says Dawid Blasevac, a former student. “I hated it, that on top of stressing about finishing the course and the stress of finding a job after. I did feel incredibly garbage after each day”.

Many students are forced into the private rental market where they pay market rates and compete with working professionals

There seems little sign of improvement either, according to Aiobhe O’Brien, Welfare Officer at the University College of Cork. This crisis is a burden “for students at any given year”, she explains. “It is becoming an increasing problem because nothing is changing, it’s getting worse on the number of rooms but also on how much they’re charging per room…there are so many scams, landlords say they’re out of the country and just ask for the money”.

The lack of options leaves some students wondering whether they would be better served going abroad to study. Brigid is one student who has concerns about continuing with her studies. While thinking of doing a master’s in Dublin she “considered going abroad because the cost of living as a whole would still be cheaper”.

With the housing crisis having reached a point where students have to choose whether they want to move abroad to pursue their studies or do so in Ireland at an excruciating price, it’s clear that something has to change soon before Ireland loses another generation of young people to emigration.