Op-ed: On housing, enough is enough

TCDSU President Laura Beston lays out her vision for a year of activism

It is impossible to ignore the accommodation crisis in this city. It has completely changed the way in which students live their lives, and not for the better. It’s gotten to the point where polite conversation and waiting for change just won’t cut it anymore. Political parties and corporations have benefitted from laws which protect them and allow them to do little to help the people directly affected by the housing shortage and sky high rents. We have to come together with other students and the USI to support access to education through the “Break the Barriers” campaign, which calls for collective action on issues such as housing.

The situation for Trinity students is bad and it’s only getting worse. Rents in Dublin have risen continuously for almost under seven years, almost twice the length of most people’s degree. Even in the first quarter of this year, rents rose by an average of 8.3%. Living in Dublin as a student and watching the constant sharp increases in rent seems almost like a dystopian film; it doesn’t feel real.

Average monthly mortgage repayments across the country are cheaper than the average monthly rent. If you can’t afford rent, and don’t come from Dublin, then you’ll never be in a position to apply for a mortgage in the first place, let alone own a house. Regardless of your income, or how the crisis might be affecting you personally, would you feel comfortable knowing one of your classmates might drop out because they are on the verge of homelessness? Or that your best friend travels two hours each way to college everyday, and you don’t get to hang out with them outside of class time anymore? That your lab partner has missed every class for the past six weeks because they’re living in a car and are constantly sick from the cold?

They pretend they’re fine, that the couch-surfing isn’t affecting their mental and physical health, their ability to work and learn.

The word “homeless” seems so serious, and those students who have been without a residence for a prolonged period of time often feel guilty using such a word. They can’t help comparing themselves to people who are, for want of a better phrase, “properly homeless”. So they pretend they’re fine, that the couch-surfing isn’t affecting their mental and physical health, their ability to work and learn, and that commuting 1 to 3 hours each way isn’t a big deal because “people have it much worse than I do.”

Those of you who are unaffected, you need to listen. You do not know what is best for a student whose experience you have not lived and whose struggles you cannot understand. There is nothing worse than being told that “that’s just the way it is”, or having “the economy” explained to you, particularly when the quality of life of the person saying this is far higher than yours.

You also need to stand up and support those whose lives are so impacted by the housing crisis and economic climate that they have to work every hour they can, that they must study every second they get. Because if these people don’t make it through college, this crisis is going to hurt them the most. And if you have the ability to spare time or energy to help the campaign to end this crisis, then it’s not a matter of “will I or won’t I”, you must. Because one day it’ll hit you just as hard, and you’ll wish you stood up and did something.

Campaigning isn’t just protesting and it’s not just for the people affected. A couple of voices are easy to ignore but a constant stream of noise from 18,000 students is harder to. A protest happens as a one off event, and will help us gain national attention but direct actions alongside this increase our power to have our demands listened to and brought about.

This year is about several different campaigns that will put pressure on our government from various angles. We must become a united front of not just 18,000 students, but an entire college. Staff, particularly academics, must pay heed to the lack of engagement from their students, must see that the student who is skipping class and is falling behind is doing so because of economic reasons.

Students are missing class either because they have to go to work during that time or are too fatigued to attend as a result of work. There are plenty of international and rural students who, because of the rent crisis, have to spend every weekend and holiday period away from their families and homes. That, coupled with the financial stress of meeting rent, isolation from being too burned out to meet friends, and not keeping up with class or academic work, (which is why a student is here in the first place) has resulted in higher levels of mental ill-health amongst students. There has been an increase of 127% of students with mental health difficulties since 2014.

We want the government to be bombarded with the message that change needs to happen.

We will be engaging with the Break the Barriers campaign that USI are running, as the union has a firm ethos of supporting access to education. This does not mean allocating a few more places on a HEAR or DARE program, but ensuring all students can actually be supported through their course and time in college.

We will be marching on October 3rd to lobby the government for capital grants for student accommodation, to pledge to support publicly funded, purpose-built student accommodation amongst manner other demands. This campaign endeavors to educate not just students, but parents, families, communities and essentially an entire nation about the sheer cost of education in Ireland today. We will be running email drives where students are encouraged en masse to send emails to their TDs and councilors to demand change.

We will be asking students and staff alike to fill up suitcases and drag them around for the day to understand what it’s like for that student who has to couchsurf or is homeless. We’ll be posting student testimonials in an attempt to reflect the success of the “In Her Shoes” campaign, which was run during the referendum to repeal the 8th, to show the human impact that the accommodation crisis is having. We will be showing how Trinity is no longer like Oxbridge, but just reflects Irish society as a whole through our “We are Trinity” campaign.

We want the government to be bombarded with the message that change needs to happen and, as the only college within 200m of our government buildings, we owe it not just to us, but the 374,000 third-level students across the country to do so.

I know some of you are exhausted, faced with huge financial worries and more, and that is why this campaign will allow anybody to access action, regardless of their ability or income. For far too long has activism and direct action been for the able bodied, student who can miss work and invest time and energy. That’s not going to be my year, and that’s not how we’ll beat an accommodation crisis.

Join us, while we still have a chance

Laura Beston

Laura Beston is the current President of Trinity's Students' Union, and a former Deputy Sports Editor of Trinity News.