FF accuses Minister of stalling on student accommodation crisis

Union of Students in Ireland says both long-term and emergency measures needed

USI president Kevin Donoghue met Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan (above) last week to discuss the housing shortage facing students, and said “our conversations have been productive and there is an appetite to do something about it”. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times.

USI president Kevin Donoghue met Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan (above) last week to discuss the housing shortage facing students, and said “our conversations have been productive and there is an appetite to do something about it”. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times.

 

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan is being urged to act on recommendations from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to tackle the student accommodation crisis without delay.

Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on education Charlie McConalogue criticised the Minister for failing to act on a HEA examination of student accommodation needs.

While a spokesman for the Minister said she had yet to receive the final report from the HEA, it is understood the details and recommendations have been communicated to her officials.

As reported in The Irish Times on Wednesday, the HEA has predicted that, in a best-case scenario, 25,000 students will be competing in the private rental market each year for the next decade.

It is proposed that an inter-departmental group will be set up to develop tax relief and capital spending proposals for the Government.

Mr McConalogue said he raised the matter with the Minister last April and “was assured that the report would be published in a matter of weeks”.

“We are now fast approaching August and there is still no sign of the report being published by the Minister,” he said.

“Measures need to be put in place to incentivise the development of student accommodation, both on and off campus.”

“The HEA have pointed out that student numbers are set to continue increasing in the years ahead which will further escalate the accommodation crisis. ”

UCD Students’ Union said the HEA figures underlined the need for “decisive action”.

Its president Marcus O’Halloran said: “We lobbied for the necessary tax incentives a year ago... There needs to be more of a sense of urgency on the Government’s part.”

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) also backed calls for new tax incentives for developers, saying these measures needed to be included in the October budget to have a speedy effect.

Union president Kevin Donoghue, who met Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan last week to discuss the housing shortage, said “our conversations have been productive and there is an appetite to do something about it”.

However, he said, both a long-term plan and emergency measures were called for.

In the short term, the USI said rent controls should be considered, pointing the example of Berlin where a cap was introduced last month on what landlords can charge new tenants.

Another measure being sought by the USI is for extra financial support to be given to students who must commute long distances to college.

Due to the shortage of accommodation in towns and cities students are being pushed further into the suburbs, adding to transport costs.

This is on top of changes in a previous budget which has limited the highest “non-adjacent” rate of maintenance to those living more than 45km from the their college.

The USI expects more students to use “digs” this year, whereby they stay with a host family, but Mr Donoghue said this was not a long term solution. “It helps alleviate the problem but it’s more of a bandage.”

Many students are reluctant to stay with another family, believing it inhibits their freedom, but Dublin Institute of Technology’s manager of campus life Brian Gormley said “we would strongly encourage students to look at digs”.

The DIT’s 10th national cost of living guide for third-level students shows rent is up by 6 per cent and travel 13 per cent for 2015/16. This has raised the annual cost of going to college for the average student living away from home to €11,001.

The figure includes spending on food, class materials and social life and is based on monthly rent of €325, a national average which rises to €418 in Dublin.