Student accommodation rent caps are too little, too late

The failure of rent caps marks a new low in the Dublin student accommodation crisis

In the midst of ludicrously high rent prices and rising homelessness on the streets of Dublin, conjoined with exponential population growth in the city centre, the cries for solutions to the housing crisis in Dublin have reached a fever pitch. For students and citizens alike, the cost of living in Dublin has become untenable and pressure has been placed on the government to react as soon as possible.

In an attempt to address the crisis, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a rent cap to be put in place in July for purpose-built student accommodation. He brought attention to the 3,000 “bed spaces” for students that have been built in the last two years, as well as the 7,000 currently under construction, and noted that these accommodations were not yet subject to the rent cap “pressure zones” that had been introduced to control rent increases in designated areas of Dublin.

Purpose-built student accommodations mostly operate under licence, not under tenancies, like many housing situations in Dublin. As such they have, thus far, been exempt from the government’s prior attempts to limit rent increases in Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs).

These attempts have been far from a success, as many cite yearly rent increases of as high as 12%, far above the legislated 4% cap in RPZs. Reports in May indicated that the average rent in the capital sat at €1,875 per month, a 12.4% rise from 2017’s figures, demonstrating the failure of the RPZs to have any significant effect since their introduction in late 2016.

Why can’t our government acknowledge and challenge the housing crisis growing throughout Dublin? How will their proposed rent caps help students struggling with their rising rates if they couldn’t effectively cap the rest of Dublin’s rent?

User aggregate sites for student accommodation like daft.ie easily show rates as high as €1,000 per week for one-bedroom apartments near college, and purpose-built accommodations emerging throughout the city tend to let around a much more realistic, but still far from achievable for many, €1,000 per month.

While rent caps should certainly be put in place, how will they help students who already cannot afford their weekly or monthly rent benefit? Even if landlords do eventually abide by the proposed rent caps, they are only being limited to slightly more extortionate prices than they are already charging. Their current policies are not being challenged in any way by these proposed legislations.

How can a full-time student with as many as 40 hours in college each week balance their workload, studies, and part-time employment to afford even just their rent, let alone their education and the actual costs of living in the city? If purpose-built student accommodations expect €250 per week from students already, the focus should not be on limiting next year’s rent increases but challenging the already exorbitant demands of Dublin’s rent.

The Economist ranks Dublin as the 19th most expensive city in the world to live in, as of 2018, rising from 25th place last year and overtaking cities like London. How can anyone, let alone students, be expected to stand by and allow the rent increases to continue at such a degree?

Mr. Varadkar says he doesn’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by pushing the legislation “too far” and risk scaring off the developers creating thousands of student spaces in the city. For the Taoiseach and the government, the concern should not lie with upsetting the sensibilities of property developers’ extortionate fees, but with the inability of Ireland’s students to afford a bed in the Dublin area.

I was unable to find any accommodation within a price range I could afford in Dublin for either first or second year, thanks to Trinity’s meagre offerings, as well as the increasingly unreasonable rates of both purpose-built and unallocated student lodgings.

While I’m fortunate enough to live within a reasonably easy commutable distance to the city centre, many have not been so lucky, and have been forced to either surrender themselves to the mercy of an inadequate public transport system, or forfeit their academic obligations altogether, all because of the prohibitive rent practices in Dublin.

After years of neglect, the government is finally waking up to the rent crisis in Dublin. While their attention to the situation is a positive step, their attempts to address the issue are years overdue and incredibly underwhelming when viewed in the wider context of the Dublin housing scene. Rent caps for student housing are just the beginning, and the student population shouldn’t just settle for such measures – we must demand better.

Eoin O'Donnell

Eoin O'Donnell is a current Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister History student, and a former Deputy Investigations Editor.