Date Uploaded: 04/08/2016
Universities say the return of digs is the fastest way to tackle accommodation crisis
Third-level colleges are appealing to homeowners to rent out rooms to students to help tackle an acute shortage of accommodation.
College authorities say a “return to student digs” is the fastest way of tackling an estimated shortage of about 25,000 beds.
The country’s housing crisis means there is increased competition for private rented accommodation.
In addition, the expiration of 10-year tax incentives for purpose-built student accommodation has prompted some property owners to cease renting out apartment blocks to students.
Many colleges report that their student residences are already booked up and are reporting shortages of private rented accommodation.
Shortages are most acute in major cities such as Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick, according to colleges.
The problem is expected to mount over the coming years, with numbers in higher education projected to grow by up to a third over the next 10-15 years.
Students’ unions in Trinity College Dublin and UCD have launched a joint campaign to promote student digs, in conjunction with accommodation website Daft.ie.
“The student population is growing and colleges can’t keep pace,” said UCD students’ union president Conor Viscardi.
“Digs are one way of getting accommodation quickly in a congested rental market which tends to favour young professionals.”
Mr Viscardi said some homeowners may be apprehensive at the thought of letting to students, but he said the type of students who opt for digs make for good tenants.
“They’re happier in a home setting than they would be in the typical student bedsit,” he said.
The shortage is also acute in NUI Galway where 170 homeowners met college officials as part of bid to promote the “rent-a-room” scheme, which allows homeowners to earn up to €12,000 tax-free.
The university says all its 2,500 rooms in student accommodation are booked up, with waiting list.
The University of Limerick has also launched a campaign to encourage homeowners and landlords to consider making spare rooms available to prospective students.
UL provides more than 2,600 student bedrooms on campus and lists a further 1,000 or more rooms in off-campus housing.
However, it is close to capacity for the upcoming academic year.
The university’s student residences manager Ellen Fitzmaurice said its aim is to find safe and affordable accommodation for students.
“Rental fees are usually charged inclusive of utility bills and range between €70 and €110 per week depending on the facilities and services offered to the student,” she said.
“It would be important to provide a private bedroom with an area to study.
“Students would require access to cooking facilities. However if meals are included, an additional charge is usually arranged with the student.”
Figures compiled by the Higher Education Authority indicate there is a shortage of about 25,000 beds for students.
It said the shortage will persist for years unless radical action, such as tax incentives for student accommodation, are taken. However, a number of Government departments have ruled out such measures.
Case study: the student
Rachel Hally, a 20-year-old UCD student from Cork, says there is no comparison between living in digs and student accommodation.
“It is much nicer living in digs because it is a home,” she says.
“It is warmer than most student accommodation and even a lot of rented accommodation.”
Some students may be fearful that living with a family would curb their independence or tame their busy social lives.
Hally, however, dismisses such concerns.
“Digs suit a more conscious, responsible person. If you live in digs, then going out every night is not really an option as you have to be mindful of other people that live in the house.
“But it definitely does not ruin your social life.
“Regardless of living in digs, I have still gone on many nights out or stayed late in college for an event or even gone to a college ball or two.
“Usually what I do is stay in a friend’s house if I can as it means that I know I will not be disturbing my family but on a few occasions, I have come home after a night out and that has not been a problem.”
Hally is due to go back to college for another year to get a second degree in music.
She is very happy to recommend it as an option for other students looking for a place to stay.
“I definitely would encourage other students to look into digs as it is a cheaper alternative to other accommodation,” she says.
“Will I be going back into digs this year? Yes of course, this will be my third year living with the same digs family.”
Case study: the owner
Una McDermott has been renting rooms in her suburban home in Galway city to students for several years now.
It is, she says, the best of both worlds for young people who want independence along with the comforts of home.
“You’re not there at night watching the clock to see if they’ve home yet. They have a lot of freedom,” says McDermott.
“But at the same time, you’re there if something goes wrong. You can offer them a bit of advice.”
That said, there are some rules – no “overnight guests” are allowed and any friends should be gone from the house by 11pm.
“They have their own sitting room. They get a key, they can stay out as long as they like. I wouldn’t be stringent about things like that.
“But if it becomes a pattern that they are out all night and in bed all day, I’d offer some gentle guidance rather than wagging the finger. I’m not their mother, after all.”
It also makes financial sense, she says. Homeowners can earn up to €12,000 tax-free under the “rent-a-room” initiative.
She charges students about €100 a week, which includes bills for light and heat, while they buy their own food and have the use of her kitchen facilities.
McDermott – whose day job involves working in NUI Galway’s student welfare office – says the experience overall has been a hugely positive one.
“I’ve had 13 students come through the house and I have never had a bother with any of them.”
Journalist: Carl O'Brien