Building on an what has been a busy period of campaigning for more affordable and secure student accommodation, UCD Students’ Union yesterday met with Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien and his officials.
UCDSU President Ruairí Power said: “We welcome dialogue with Minister O’Brien at this particular moment in the crisis and the opportunity to raise the unique experience of UCD students during this academic year.
We believe that there are proactive steps that could be taken both on-campus and in the private market to better support people as they pursue their studies. We discussed the extent to which the acute accommodation shortage is impacting negatively on third level education, which is an absolute cornerstone of this society and economy, as well as the impact that the shortage is having on the mental health and the student experience of our members.”
The Union raised the need for the State to play a key role in the financing of purpose-built student accommodation on our college campuses with due regard to affordability criteria. A continued focus on luxury style projects undermines sectoral objectives to expand access to higher education.
UCDSU hopes to see further loan facilities contingent on strict affordability objectives set out by the state as part of the new National Student Accommodation Strategy.
Direct financing of builds must also be on the table in order to control rents. UCDSU believes that Higher Education Institutions need to shift away from the mindset of viewing accommodation simply as a marketable good and students as economic entities. A shift to an approach rooted in the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion is required to move towards the provision of housing as an essential service.
Urgent action is needed to put a halt to unjustified withholding of deposits. UCDSU impressed the need for the creation of a custodial model deposit protection scheme to rebalance the uneven power dynamic between student renters and their landlords.
The precarious nature of digs accommodation was also highlighted. A realignment of protections for students in rent-a-room arrangements is needed, particularly minimum habitation standards and introduction of statutory “no-cause” eviction notice periods.
Officers also raised the potential for means-tested State rental supports in order for students to meet skyrocketing costs. The Dutch model serves as an example of expansive state assistance for student renters.
UCDSU is keen to ensure that expansive measures to increase supply including the urgent imposition of a punitive vacant property tax and that enhanced grants for retrofit will be brought forward.
While there is no panacea to the supply and affordability crises, UCDSU believes that this suite of measures is required in order to make a dent in what will be one of the defining factors in determining equitable access to higher education for decades to come.
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