As Students’ Unions around Ireland are stepping-up protests at universities and colleges demanding the reversal of rent increases in on-campus accommodation, a West Cork student shares his own three-month struggle to find affordable accommodation
BY PHILIP BRENNAN
I WALKED proudly around campus on a recent evening, as the smell of resilience had replenished the air. The passion and drive from UCC students were next to none. Their job of protesting against the 3% rent increase of student accommodation had just begun. This is the third rent increase in recent years introduced by UCC. Rents increased by 5% in 2018, and by a further 11% in 2019.
Students argue that rents should be frozen for the next three years. Student have erected tents on the Quad and stated that their occupation on the Quad will continue, around the clock, until the proposed rent hike has been reversed. These increases have added fuel to the fire with our nation’s chaotic housing shortage and this has reminded me of my own struggle for accommodation.
For me, I spent nearly three months searching for accommodation. I spent many hours on the web, writing emails and messages, making phone calls, asking friends and going to leasing agents looking for accommodation. During that search, I was met with many greedy characters, extortionate rent prices and an eye-opener to a communication breakdown among some landlords.
However, many were very helpful. I travelled up and down from Clonakilty most days but, some nights I stayed with a friend or stayed in AirBnB. I remember travelling up from Clonakilty one miserable Saturday to view a house in Glasheen that was being refurbished.
The landlord showed me around and said to call back Monday when the house would be suitable for better viewing. I called back on Monday and the rooms were gone and I wasn’t informed. Essentially, I wasted my time. Finally, my search ended in mid-October, nearly six weeks into semester one. I am currently living quite happily in digs in Douglas.
I am a 1st year BSc Government and Politics student in UCC. Last month we had a lecture from Fr. Peter McVerry and his views opened my eyes to our never-ending housing crises. The right to a house is not embedded in the Irish constitution, the right to a house should be a constitutional right. He argues that this crisis will soon develop into chaos and anarchy if the next Government (whenever and who that will be) fails to act fast. Just two years ago, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted the crises was an emergency. Fellow members of the cabinet such as Minister for Finance Pascal Donoghue declared it the greatest social issue on the island of Ireland.
The Government argued that this crisis was a result of years of austerity. In 1970, 8,500 social houses were built. In 1985, 6’900 social houses were built and in 2015, only 75 were built. This is due to the Government handling this to the private sector. The single private sector is vital in building a ‘modern economy’. NAMA purchased land and could not repay.
Therefore, lands across the country were sold to the highest bidder. The lands that are available to us have the capacity to have 500’000 houses built on them. Sadly, these houses are not being built as they want spiralling rent increases. Publicly owned land is being developed for private housing not for social or affordable housing. Construction is now thriving but not for cheap housing.
We are led to believe that Ireland is one of the best states to invest in with regards to property. The department of finance said international companies such as Apple, Pfizer etc are setting high inflation rates. To conclude, decision making is investor centred not tenant centred.
I strongly agree with the UCC Students’ Union when they stated that they ‘simply cannot stand by and support’ such dramatic rent increases. I argue that there should be some sort of negotiation between UCC and its students. UCC is a fine institution and one I would argue every student should attend. UCC is an institution that puts its students first.
But these rent hikes have angered us and left us with no option to either return home or give up our accommodation as it is simply not affordable. Students are being locked out of education due to the extortionate rents and we should not stand for it. I am delighted to see students fighting for their rights. It is no doubt in my mind that the activists do not intend on ceasing their occupation of the Quad until their demands are met. I am proud to be studying in UCC. However, I am prouder of the resilience of my fellow students. I applaud you!