High rents force Irish students to move in with retirees
Empty-nest couples are letting out rooms and benefiting from having young people around
Rocketing rents are forcing hard-pressed college students to trade companionship and housework duties with 'empty nest' retirees in return for cheaper accommodation.
And USI president Kevin Donoghue says the renting situation is now so out of control that some cash-strapped students have had to resort to emergency hostel accommodation. He has even heard of cases where student have been sleeping in cars overnight.
And although the college year is winding down, he has warned that, come the autumn, the crisis will have deepened further unless special provision is made for the third-level sector.
Mr Donoghue said that a growing number of college goers now see "bunking in" with elderly people living alone in "roomy homes" as a viable alternative to paying sky-high rents. It also helps 'empty nest' couples who may feel lonely or isolated, he added.
"We promote digs accommodation on our website. Essentially, an elderly couple's children may have grown and gone and they see this as an opportunity to have young people in the house again.
"In return, younger people get good-quality accommodation at an affordable price.
"In some cases, students do the housework and help to fix things around the house and don't pay any rent at all.
"But each situation is different and an agreement has to be reached by both sides."
Under the Rent-a-Room relief scheme, he said a homeowner can receive an income up to €12,000 per annum, without having to pay any tax on it. However, the occupants must be using the room on a long-term basis.
For example, renting a room to a student for the academic year is covered by this arrangement, but taking in guests for short breaks is not.
"It's a scheme specifically designed to provide accommodation for students," says Mr Donoghue.
"We set it up two years ago in response to the lack of affordable accommodation.
"I see it as the only realistic, immediate alleviation to the current accommodation problem. We put 300 houses through the scheme in the first year and 600 last year."
He confirmed that a large number of 'empty nest' parents are taking part in the initiative
"It proved popular, so the Government gave us a €30,000 grant last year to build the website. That funding will go a long way towards providing a large number of additional homes.
"Initially, all the accommodation on offer was exclusively in Dublin, but last year there were houses available all over the country."
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, he said the rent students pay is generally "significantly cheaper" compared with what's available on the open market.