Sinn Féin spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Rose Conway-Walsh TD, has warned that the escalating student accommodation shortage compounded by the national housing crisis is putting unprecedented pressure on students and families as they desperately search for a place to live while they continue their education.
Teachta Conway-Walsh called for urgent government action to address the growing crisis.
Speaking this morning, she said:
“Student accommodation shortages are at crisis point and the government is failing to act. The rush for and the scarcity of affordable student accommodation is not a new phenomenon. Every year students scramble for shelter near to their chosen college but it was entirely predictable that this year would present a crisis like no other.
“For months now I have raised this issue with Minister Harris in the Dáil asking for a new student accommodation strategy and presenting solutions. He has refused to do this. As with many other issues the government’s ‘wait and see’ strategy has again failed students and their families.
“Having consulted with most Higher Education Institutes in regard to their capacity to deliver affordable student accommodation I am confident that there is a willingness and ability to address the problem.
“Increasing on-campus or institution-owned student accommodation at affordable rates is imperative. Many HEI accommodation projects have been shelved despite being at various stages of planning and development – often shovel ready. Unable to progress due to the relationship between project costs and the subsequent cost of the accommodation for students caused by conditionality of accessing loans. Essentially, some HEIs are unwilling to advance projects that will deliver accommodation far beyond the reach of the majority of students. There are between 3,000 and 6,000 student beds that are at advanced stages but are unable to progress without government support.
“This would require the Government to co-fund student accommodation projects. The state could co-fund student accommodation projects meaning the loan amount required would be lower and the rent necessary would also be kept at affordable rates.
“The fact that many projects are ready to go means that breaking ground on student accommodation could be done in a matter of months.
“Student accommodation providers have been allowed to change the use of the residences that were granted planning permission on the basis of student need. This should never have been allowed.
“A campaign to encourage homeowners to avail of rent-a-room tax relief where up to €14,000 can be earned tax-free should be initiated with immediate effect.
“Cross sectoral engagement in the planning process with local authorities is essential to reduce the current timeframe. Modular construction should also be considered to provide a rapid response to the current crisis.
“We must remember that many of these students are coming from families that are already struggling with escalating energy costs and the impact of the highest inflation rates for years. Many will not qualify for SUSI because the criteria does not reflect the financial reality in these households.
“Investment in third level education and our future workforce must include providing affordable accommodation so they can access their chosen educational pathways.”