Record number of students scramble to secure housing
The housing crisis is set to worsen this September as a record number of students flock to overcrowded city centres ahead of the new college term.
The Central Applications Office (CAO) has recorded some 80,887 people applying for college courses this year - up from 80,010 last year. In 2011, there were 76,749 applicants.
Record numbers of students will be attending college this September, according to a Higher Education Authority (HEA) estimate from 2015.
The HEA report estimated that student numbers would increase from 168,000 in 2014 to nearly 193,000 by 2024, adding to the number of people already desperately hunting for affordable housing.
The Government released its 'Rebuilding Ireland' plan in July to deal with the housing crisis.
However, the results of the plan will take several years to materialise, leaving students in the lurch as they look for rooms for the coming academic year - now just weeks away.
Dr Lorcan Sirr, a housing expert and lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology, said: "The housing crisis is not coming from a lack of supply, but from an increased demand.
"There is an increase in the number of students going to universities around the country and there is no tradition of dedicated student accommodation in Ireland.
"In the UK, you will find dedicated student-accommodation providers that will build in conjunction with the universities.
"We don't have that, so students have traditionally gone into the private rental sector and it's not suitable for them for lots of reasons."
Dr Sirr stressed that students were not used to renting and were vulnerable as a result.
He said: "They'll quite often get abuse from some landlords."
The lack of available space has led to students' unions encouraging digs as an alternative option, where students rent a room in shared housing.
Daniel Khan, vice-president of NUI Galway's students' union, said that digs was a "brilliant option" for students.
"For a lot of students, college is a massive transition. But when you're living in a digs situation, there's somebody there to give you a helping hand."
Annie Hoey, president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), stressed the importance of landlords letting out rooms in their homes.
The crisis has led to the Government allocating €49,000 to the USI to appoint a student housing project manager.
Ms Hoey believes that digs are a great option for first-years and postgraduates but she conceded that it was "a very short-term solution to the housing crisis"
She said: "We can't do this forever. It's something to do while the Government is working on the student-accommodation strategy, which it is committed to formulating."
Encouraging homeowners to rent out rooms was another stop-gap solution, enabling students to continue their studies while more housing is made available.
"We are pleading with homeowners to put up digs, to also put them up reasonably (priced) as well," she added.