Saturday 16 December 2017

From undercover house-hunting to 'Rent Books' - here's how Ireland's Students' Unions are battling the accommodation crisis

DCU Students Union
DCU Students Union

Claire Fox

From undercover house-hunting live on Snapchat to blogs and good-old fashioned advice, university student unions across the country are doing their best to help students during the dreaded annual accommodation hunt this summer.

Independent.ie spoke to these young student leaders about the special initiatives they are putting in place to help students find suitable places to stay for the upcoming academic year. 

UCD go undercover on Snapchat

No contracts, up front deposits and one bathroom between 15 people... These are some of the discoveries that UCD Students' Union made on their new Snapchat series 'House Hunters', which seeks to highlight the terrible housing options for students in Dublin. 

The series began last week and was the brain child of UCD Campaigns and Communications Officer, Barry Murphy. He wanted the students' union to "put themselves in the shoes of students "and show how dodgy the market can be."

Barry told Independent.ie of the "deplorable conditions" that he encountered during the series, where he visited potential accommodation while filming it 'undercover' for Snapchat.

"One place was €750 a month to share a room with two strangers and had no contract. Another place had one tiny bathroom between 15 people and a press in the bathroom where kitchen appliances were stored," said Barry. 

The series so far has shown that living conditions in the houses were sometimes very dirty and many of the landlords were forceful when it came to deposits. 

"A lot of the time they would want the deposit upfront. They'd want €500 or more straight away or drop the deposit just so you would give them the cash and tell you that the ATM was just down the road. The houses wouldn't have been cleaned either," he said. 

Barry said that the Students' Union are worried that First Year students and international students with little knowledge of the competitive market will fall into the trap of living in these places.

"There's no regulations and house viewings are so competitive. There would be 30 or more at one viewing, so you'd be worried about some students who may feel under pressure," he added. 

The students' union have already published four Snapchat house-hunting stories and plan to publish more in the coming weeks. They hope that the more students that view the videos, the more students will lobby Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy to demand that living conditions improve for students.  

"Snapchat was the best student platform to get this out on as it's the most used app by 15-20 year olds. We've had a lot of engagement so far and encourage everyone who sees the stories and who wants to do something to write to Minister Eoghan Murphy," he said.  

 

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UCC Students' Union
 

'Digs' blogs up and running

UCD and Trinity College, Dublin launched a joint initiative with DAFT.ie this week to encourage homeowners to rent a room to students for the next academic year. The initiative is tax-free, as long as the homeowner doesn't earn more than €12,000 a year from the rent. UCD Campaigns and Communications Officer Barry Murphy hopes that this will help relieve the market. 

"We're just trying to put more beds out there for students. There's no regulations at the moment and the market is dodgy with bad value for money. This would really help students in need to get accommodation near the college," he said.

Last year DCU Students' Union launched their successful accommodation blog where homeowners offering rooms for rent can advertise to students.

The blog is up and running for the upcoming academic year and while DCU Vice President and Welfare Officer Podge Henry said digs are not usually students' first choice, they have received a positive reception so far.

"We started the blog last year and students found it very handy. There was no real space out there to access digs. It's specifically just for digs and no other form of accommodation," he said.

"To advertise we have strict guidelines and forms and pricing and we make sure the homeowner and student sign a proper agreement."

CC Students' Union President Martin Scally added that students in Cork should visit their dedicated accommodation Facebook page or Welfare officer if they are having accommodation issues.

"We have a Facebook page which is a bit like a buy and sell initiative. It allows UCC students to post rooms available. There's four of us in the union who are administrators of it. 

"You must be a UCC student so sometimes, if we're unsure, people can come to us with their student card to prove they're a UCC student."

 

'Rent Book' to battle Galway gridlock 

With NUIG and GMIT,  Galway city currently has a student population of more than 26,000. 

NUIG Students' Union President Lorcán Ó Maoileannaigh said that it's not unusual for students in NUIG to commute from county towns as they cannot find suitable student accommodation in the city.

"More and more students are commuting from the likes of Connemara and Ballinasloe and I am aware of one student who got the train in from Ennis every morning as they could not find accommodation in Galway city and in turn had to live at home and take the hour and 15 minute train twice a day everyday into college," he said.

"The fact that hostels are advertising student accommodation is a clear indicator that there simply isn’t the accommodation there to support the student population at this time."

As well as providing advice about accommodation to students and potential first years, NUIG also has their own student 'Rent Book' which acts as a bible for students around rental issues.

"We publish our own 'Rent Book' which answers all of the typically frequently asked questions and we encourage students to get in touch with us if they need any further clarifications," Lorcán added.

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NUIG Students' Union President Lorcán Ó Maoileannaigh

National Strategy kicks off

Union of Students Ireland President (USI) Michael Kerrigan thinks that the National Strategy for Student Accommodation, which was launched this week by Education Minister Richard Bruton is a positive long-term step but not helpful to students currently struggling. 

"It's a positive long-term strategy as there will be more beds coming on stream and shows that the government are finally realising that there is a student-related accommodation crisis in Ireland. Unfortunately in the next couple of years it won't get any better," he said.

The USI's sister site, homes.usi.ie and the Finance and Accommodation guide which were launched in 2016 provide helpful hints and tips to students on how to avoid dodgy landlords and rental agreements.

"It especially helps first year students and international students who may not know what areas and prices are best," he said.

Kerrigan also added that he doesn't feel that the high quality student accommodation complexes that have recently opened are doing the housing crisis any favours.

"If you can afford them well and good but the vast majority of students can't afford them. They're not helping the crisis and are not an option for most."

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