04 Oct 2022

OPINION: 'You are either paying sky-high rent prices or commuting' - Limerick student

OPINION: 'You are either paying sky-high rent prices or commuting' - Limerick student

Ballybricken native, Dublin student Caillum Hedderman has personal experience of looking for accommodation / Picture: Hugh Dooley

Caillum Hedderman, aged 19, from Ballybricken, is studying Political Science, International Relations and Sociology at University College Dublin. He is involved in local, national and international policy development in the areas of sustainable development and youth rights. He was elected as Student Residences’ Campaigns Coordinator of UCD Students’ Union last year

IN A COUNTRY where students struggle each year to find a place to rent, I try to break down some tips and tricks along with some policy advice for the government.

I am Irish, I am a young person. I am attempting to live in the country I was born in, grew up in and now work, study and live in. Unfortunately, due to the inaccessibility of the housing and renting market, the conversation of moving abroad among my friend groups has grown to nearly every conversation.

It is important to note, young people like myself want to live, study, work and flourish here, as does every other demographic of the population. But when a roof over your head is the defining factor in whether you live in the country you call home, the reality of the situation becomes that bit more bleak.

So let me set the scene. You have just finished your Leaving Certificate exams, and now you are facing into a summer of waiting on the results that define the direction of your next couple of years, or so they say. You are probably working, or looking, for a part-time job over the summer where you will get minimum wage, or just above it. Over the summer, if you are moving out, you are looking for accommodation in your prospective colleges. You spend a lot of your time scrolling or random Facebook groups you joined recently, but everything seems so expensive or too good to be true.

If you are successful in securing a college place, it is not until a handful of weeks before your academic term starts that you can confirm your accommodation. That is if you have found a place by that stage. That is when the scramble starts, a weird cycle of working, looking for a place to stay and trying to meet up with friends or some rushed last minute travelling. Then the academic year starts and you are faced with this new opportunity, this large new group of people and a new area or level of study. This is overwhelming in itself, but then you place the housing question in the mix.

This is the experience of second-level graduates entering university each year. This was my experience. In essence, you are either paying sky-high rent prices or commuting, both heavily impact your learning opportunity and student experience. That is if you get a place, which is the story of twenty thousand students last year, and possibly an even greater number this year.

This is a systemic problem of politically-induced adversity, fundamental failure of successive governments to lay the foundation in supporting the development of our renowned 'highly-skilled workforce'.

So prospective students, what can you do to combat this hyper object of a problem?

Expand your search pool

It is incredibly frustrating, but some students are having more luck when they expand their search pool beyond traditional college accommodation areas, for example, looking around areas that have a direct bus to the university or a safe cycle lane system. It is not a guaranteed success, and most certainly a short-term solution to a bigger problem, but if you cast your net further, the more likely you are to find a place for the academic year.

The art of a high calibre email

When reaching out to landlords, always put your best foot forward. It is important to remember that any time you are making an enquiry for a place to rent, there could be hundreds of people looking for the same place, many of whom are working professionals. The message you send should be professional, providing some insight into your personality and values, along with a strong reference. This is your chance to show that you will be an unproblematic tenant.

The expensive option; PBSA providers

Purpose Built Student Accommodation developments are being built more frequently now. This is an expensive and unreliable option, with on-campus accommodation increasing in price and demand growing year-on-year. In relation to private developments, such as new properties built or renovated by companies such as ‘Aparto’, these renting properties are usually on the highest scale of pricing for student accommodation and tend to fill quite quickly, so if this is an option for you I would recommend applying as soon as you can.

Utilise your social network

It is also worthwhile to use your social networks, whether to be online or in-person. Do not be afraid to mention it in conversations, or post it online. Many of my friends and peers have found places to rent in this manner through the years. On this point, it is very important to ensure your safety at all times. If you viewing a property, visit with a friend or family member and if you are transferring funds to pay for a deposit or a first-month of rent, ensure that you have a written contract, signed and reviewed by both parties. 

Embrace the culture

It is important to add that you may not find a place to rent or stay before the beginning of the academic term. Albeit difficult, if this is your situation come September I would encourage you to start making friends and joining groups that interest you, whether that be through sport or social initiatives. The culture of friendship in college cultivates a sense of solidarity, so if you are struggling to find a place to rent do not be afraid to mention it when you meet new groups of people – you never know who you might meet.

Know your support; Student Union

Finally, engage with your student union. They have designated services and people to support you in this process. They are usually students or taking a year out of studies to work that job, so they will understand and have lived through the same challenges you may be facing. You can reach them by phone, email, social media or by walking into their office within open hours.

All of these tips are bandages on a gaping wound. As I stated before, this is a failure of successive governments to address a systemic problem effecting the everyday lives of students. It frustrates me to be writing those tips, because it is as though I am blaming us, the students, for this problem. Yet, it is important to know some tips and tricks when navigating this vicious renting market. But, on a policy level, there are some steps that can be taken to address this, which I don’t stand alone in calling for. If you are interested in some civic participation, the next two points can be your calls to action for representatives in your area.

Short term; reduction in the student contribution charge

The Student Contribution Charge is a three thousand euro addition to tuition fees for Irish third-level students, usually used for student services and examinations. On top of high tuition fees, this has placed tuition fees in Ireland as the most expensive in the European Union. Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, has pledged the reduction of such charge in forthcoming budgets, which is welcome, but at present it remains unchanged. This reduction would place money back in the pockets of students and parents, providing an opportunity to spend such funds to navigate the inaccessible student renting market. 

Long term; reform the national student accommodation strategy

On the housing issues, the current National Student Accommodation Strategy is not supporting students to access the renting market. It fails on regulating the sky-high prices of rent, and allows the classification of student renters as second-class tenants – with the title of 'licensee'.

With the government’s 'Housing for All' plan, there has been little student-specific houses built, only the support of international companies, such as 'Uninest' and 'Aparto', where prices are upwards of €250 a week. We need the reformation of this governmental strategy to support students, not harm them. We need student representatives leading the development of this strategy, where student welfare is given greater value than foreign property investors.

The student housing market is a difficult sphere to navigate. It is inaccessible for students. It is detrimental to our education journey. However, there are steps one can take to best position yourself to find a place to live for the academic year. There is also pragmatic hope in the face of this politically-induced adversity, calling for the reduction in the student contribution charge and the reformation of the student accommodation strategy. 

Caillum wrote this without affiliation to any organisation or body

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