“Hate the housing crisis with all my heart”: Students affected by the housing crisis

With the discussion on the housing crisis, it can be easy to forget the people behind the numbers

Discussions and debates on housing and homelessness have been widespread on campus in the last few weeks. From a visit by Fianna Fáil’s leader, Micheál Martin, to the 3,000 person student-led march last week, to an urgent housing-related motion proposed in the Dáil later the same day, the topic has sparked an awareness in the College community. That said, with narratives repeated, contested, and revised continually, it is easy to reduce a person’s experience into a mere statistic. For all you know, one of the 10,000 homeless people you have been vocal about could be the person sitting next to you in a lecture. Trinity News spoke to some of those students who wanted to share their stories.

“I got lung problems from it being so dusty.”

Laura, off-books Physics student

In her second year, Laura became estranged from her parents and was forced to go off-books in order to earn enough money to pay her 3,000 tuition fee for the following year, in addition to her rent, food, and medication. A year later, she still works part-time and attends lectures to prepare for an exam she missed in her first year. She gets no support from SUSI because she has no way of proving how much her parents earn, as she has no contact with them.

“I would have two and a half hours of sleep, but if I had to do something else I wouldn’t sleep.”

Despite all this, she remains in remarkably high spirits. At first, she was subletting illegally in a house where her landlord wasn’t aware of her residency. It was a damp place that was shared between three other people, leaving her belongings wet “but I’ve lived in much worse”, she says. When she was fifteen, she lived in a place where it was so cold that she had to sleep with her family in one bed, and so damp that her sister’s musical instrument cases went mouldy. “I got lung problems from it being so dusty.” Although she’s now living with her boyfriend in a better place, she still finds it hard to earn money and focus on coursework at the same time. “There’s a chance I’ll just have to drop out of college to be able to work and pay for my rent. I’m really hoping not to do that.”

Hugh, fourth year Politics and Social Sciences student

In his second year, Hugh felt the effects of the housing crisis when he had several disputes with his landlady. Appliances didn’t work, and he and his three flatmates had to furnish the brand new house out of their own pockets. This meant spending an extra 200 a month along with their 1,100 monthly rent each. But yet, they stayed there for two years. “This was our only option…it was this or nothing.” When they finally did move to campus accommodation in their fourth year, they lodged a complaint with the Residential Tenancies Board about the house they lived in. Although they received some money back, they are still waiting for another 600. Hugh doesn’t expect to be paid back fully, however, because “[the landlady] knows she’s in a much stronger position as a landlord in the Dublin housing market than student tenants”. This experience drove Hugh to get involved in Trinity’s Vincent De Paul society, in a social justice programme, where he and his friend, Andy McLoughlin, were able to conduct their own research on homelessness last year.

“It’s frustrating, because obviously you want to get involved with every aspect of college, go to events, go out and meet people”, except she can’t without missing the last bus home.

Marina, third year English student

A few months ago, Marina and her friends found a nice, affordable, well-kept house and were convinced, particularly when the landlord agreed to write up a contract for them, that they were sorted for the next academic year. However, a week before they were due to leave Ireland for the summer, the landlord disappeared and left them only a short text saying he was selling the house. Suddenly they were in search of a home all over again. The whole experience was “really, really stressful…it is so much stress because everybody is just so unreliable”.

Emma, first year English student

Emma lives with her family in Drogheda, with a commute of four hours to and from College. For 10am lectures she wakes up at 5am. When finishing at 7pm, she arrives home at 9pm at the earliest. This is especially straining on her social life. “It’s frustrating, because obviously you want to get involved with every aspect of college, go to events, go out and meet people”, except she can’t without missing the last bus home. Emma described Freshers’ Week as the worst because while everyone was making new friends and enjoying themselves, she was at home with her parents.

“Trinity does have a duty to provide affordable accommodation for students.”

Tiziano, ex-Erasmus Political Science student from Italy

In 2016, Tiziano moved from Bologna, Italy, to study at Trinity for his Erasmus. However, he couldn’t afford student accommodation, and lived in hostels for a month while looking for places to rent. “After a month I was going to withdraw from Erasmus because I couldn’t find anything, I almost risked one night out in the streets”. He also couldn’t register for his course until very late and was living far from the city centre, so it was hard for him to go out, make friends, and settle in his new environment. “In Ireland…the landlord can give your room to other people. In Italy, if you do something like that, the law will punish you strictly.” When asked how the prices compare with Bologna, he said “for 300 to €330, you’re going to find like a prince’s room, a very, very big beautiful room”.

Amy, third year year Nursing student

During her first year, Amy couldn’t afford to live in Halls. Instead, she stayed with her family in Cavan, which is about six hours to and from Dublin by public transport. This proved most difficult when she had to go on a ten week placement programme at Tallaght Hospital. She’d start the day by catching the 3am bus to Dublin airport, switching buses to take her to the city centre where she’d arrive at 5am and “go to McDonalds because that would be the only place open at that time”. She would then take a Luas to the hospital where she would work from 7:30am to 8pm. She’d arrive back home at midnight. “I would have two and a half hours of sleep, but if I had to do something else I wouldn’t sleep”. The commute put a strain on her social life, her coursework, and her sleep. Looking back on it, she wonders how she did it. “Now that I talk about it, it doesn’t feel real.”

A lot of students can’t afford the student accommodation offered by Trinity, and some believe that more needs to be done internally to enact that change. Hugh agrees, stating: “Trinity does have a duty to provide affordable accommodation here for students…there’s definitely room for all of us in College to make Trinity aware of that.”