The lack of quality rental options for students is forcing many to explore the traditional ‘digs’ experience, writes Emma Connolly
ALL-purpose built student accommodation in Cork city has been booked up since the end of March when it was allocated through a hotly-contested lottery system.
A total of 1,200 beds were available through UCC’s Campus Company across its numerous city developments to cater for its 20,000-strong student population, approx 40% of whom come from outside the city.
These beds were also open to CIT which has 10,000 full time students, around 3,000 of whom need a place to stay.
As the saying goes – if your name wasn’t on the list, then you weren’t getting in – in fact even if your name was on the list, there was still a good chance you weren’t getting in, due to a simple supply and demand issue.
The consensus across the board – among both students and providers – is that the lack of quality accommodation is the single biggest problem facing the student population in Cork.
That’s illustrated by the fact that some students – or, in many cases, their parents – renting in the private market are prepared to continue paying rent over the summer when they won’t even be in Cork, as they are so afraid they won’t find an alternative.
The solution, they all agree, is to immediately build more accommodation.
That’s poor consolation to those who are in the thick of their search right now.
But the immediate advice to parents and students alike is not to panic, as there’s a good chance that lots of cancellations will filter through once the CAO offers are made on August 21st. It’s accepted that lots of people will have booked accommodation in several cities to cover themselves and will then make cancellations when they decide on what course they are taking.
The message is that it is essential to be on the ground that day, and the following days, with a deposit at the ready in order to act fast when cancellations come up – being physically present will be more effective than being at the end of the phone.
However, in the meantime students are urged to get registered with letting agents and to open their minds to the idea of staying in digs – something which may sound archaic but which has evolved to become a very attractive option.
UCC say they try to help as much as they can and direct parents and students to accommodation.ucc.ie/Accommodation.
They also say they are working to build relationships with private accommodation suppliers.
However, Eolann Sheehan, president of UCC’s students union, says students will generally lose out here to families and professionals.
‘Landlords will choose those who can take on a 12-month contract rather than students who only want a nine month stint – it’s a more secure income.’
And students are taking matters in their own hands by knocking on doors in student areas and asking if the properties are available – but without much success.
‘We are also seeing students living further away in places like Ballincollig; and we’ve even had people consider basing themselves in Mallow.
‘It’s very stressful. The Government could kill two birds if they invested in specific student accommodation as this would then decrease the pressure on the housing market.’
CIT SU president Shane Falvey described the problem as ‘colossal’ with a massive shortage of housing in Bishopstown.
The government should have predicted the demographics and how this would impact on Cork – eg an increase in students, no extra housing units and a market under pressure from families and professionals, he said.
‘Even if work started on a development tomorrow, it would be two to three years before it came on stream.’
His advice is to be proactive and to explore all options including bedsits which is echoed by CIT’s accommodation officer Deirdre Falvey.
‘Everyone is aware of the situation; we are losing houses to families who will rent for 12 months; we’ve lost over two thirds of our shared housing list – the majority has gone. But the number of available digs has tripled.’
She said the concept of digs was evolving and was no longer just about staying with families but included living with young couples or single people who needede help with their mortgages.
Her office has been busy since January and her top advice is to be in the city when CAO offers are made.
‘The day the results come out in August and the following days are crucial – you can’t beat coming to Cork and being on the ground and being ready with your deposit – if there’s a cancellation, you’ll get it if you are there.’
Lettings administrator with ERA DowneyMcCarthy Kelly Mellerick said she had student clients paying for their accommodation over the summer as they were so keen to keep their place.
‘It’s a financial burden but after weighing it up, lots are agreeing to it as they are so happy to just get sorted,’ she said.
Kelly has been doing lettings for the past 21 years but has never experienced anything like what she has seen in the past 12 months.
‘There could have been 20 people showing up per letting – it was unprecedented,’ she said.
However, students don’t usually score too well in the private sector when tenants are being chosen.
‘It’s a no brainer – more purpose built accommodation has to be built – the sites are there.’