Commuters versus campus dwellers: a look into the allocation of on-campus accommodation

Trinity News investigates the smoke and mirrors of how campus accommodation is allocated

“‘Use your granny; you’re thick not to’”

“I got told by a few Southside friends ‘use your granny — you’re thick not to.’” Sean, under pseudonym, spoke to Trinity News about his experience applying for on-campus housing, the rejection that meant he commuted for three hours every day, and the phenomenon of using a false home address — or the address of a relative — to secure a room. 

Sean thought he was a shoo-in: “I thought I was [involved] enough in a big enough [student] society [to get accommodation]. I wasn’t actually worried about it at the time — I thought I didn’t need to lie on the form because I’d get it by merit. But that just didn’t happen at all. That pissed me off when I looked back at it — you’ve got people who do literally nothing in college who got it.”

Sean is not alone; many final year commuters had a similar experience. Open now to hopeful third-years wanting to live on-campus for the last year of their degree, the application form is unclear in its criteria for assigning rooms. Geography plays a role — international students seem to be given priority — and so does involvement in college: one part of the application asks for a supporting statement specifying how the accommodation would support the applicant’s academic and extracurricular activities. But the impact of each of these factors remains ambiguous. 

The competition for these rooms is stiff, and they don’t come cheap. Applications become strategic and even falsified as students do whatever it takes to get accommodation. This creates a moral dilemma, yet Sean explained from his experience last year that it was “a really common thing of using grandparents’ addresses to get on-campus accommodation. I’ve got family in Cork, I could have done that, but I wasn’t really happy with doing that.” 

Trinity News spoke to László Molnárfi, TCDSU President and one of the founders of the TCD Renters Solidarity Network on the matter, who confirmed that “we don’t have clear criteria from the Junior Dean and the accommodation office on how places are selected for student accommodation.” 

When Trinity News approached the accommodation office, they declined to comment, redirecting any questions to Trinity Communications — an office unrelated to the allocation of accommodation — and the Junior Dean was unavailable for comment. 

Rhys Rowlands, a fourth year history student from Dublin, resident in the Pearse Street houses, spoke to Trinity News about who is to blame for the falsification of addresses: “there should be a bit more social responsibility [taken by] students from Dublin to realise that their [peers] need the accommodation more.” 

Rhys also suggested, however, that this “social responsibility [lies] with the government to provide housing for students in the first place,” and that “geography [shouldn’t] have anything to do with it.” He continued: “I think what the people who live on-campus should show is a commitment to the spirit of Trinity.” 

Rhys credits his own allocation of on-campus accommodation to his involvement in college, as well as a strategic approach to the application: “I tried to figure out which bedroom people want the least, like, I have an address in Westmeath, I have been involved, but I still think they’re gonna favour people [further away], like a lot of my mates from Cork, which is so fair that they get it above me, 100%.”

“‘Persistence pays off’”

“I did have an option to live in Dublin if I wanted to, but I decided to try to pursue Trinity [accommodation] not thinking I would get it … I was known for doing the Trinity Trails for a year … but I think what really stuck was the fact that I was in the Hist and DUBES. I didn’t get it originally, then I kept emailing throughout the summer and persistence pays off, I got something.”

Another student from Dublin — Sharon, under pseudonym — is a resident of New Square and discussed the “big stigma around being from Dublin and moving onto campus.”

Sharon explained: “I was born in Dublin and my parents moved to Dublin 30 years ago. They moved back [to mainland Europe] when I started my first year of college. I moved into an apartment in Rathgar with my brother, and he was studying in UCD … because we needed something for both of us [my parents] decided to get us an apartment.”

“He then, a year later, dropped out and [moved overseas] so then I was just in the apartment by myself. I kind of looked for someone to live with, but I couldn’t really find anyone because it’s quite a nice apartment so the rent is higher than other [places] people could get. So I found it really hard to find someone who was willing to pay the rent for it, and also who I was comfortable with.” 

Sharon described feeling isolated in the apartment as the reason for her applying in the first place: “I would go home and it would just be silent for the rest of the evening. That’s why I really wanted to live on campus for final year.” 

In Sharon’s experience, students keen for accommodation exaggerate their involvement in and geographical distance from college: “I know people who lied about being involved with things on campus. And I know a few people from Dublin who would have put down an address of a family home they have in Mayo. Or in like, Kerry. I think it works — I put my family’s address [abroad]. I thought I maybe wouldn’t get it [otherwise]. I know a few people who put addresses in the countryside and got it.” Sharon considered the ethical question of using her [European] address, saying “I did feel a bit guilty applying considering I had an apartment in Dublin. If I didn’t get it, I’d still have somewhere to live.” Both Sharon and her flatmate, however,  “were kind of concerned” about their “involvement” in college not meeting the, albeit arbitrary, requirements. 

She also spoke of the judgement she received from her “social circle” in which “no-one really understood why [she] was giving up this apartment to live on campus. [She] just constantly felt like [she] had to justify it.” She continued: “Everyone wants to move out … for the experience of living outside of the family home. People who live in Dublin, because of the high rent, will never really get to do that until their late twenties, so it’s a good enough opportunity to get cheap enough accommodation for a year. I know a lot of my friends [from Dublin], their parents would pay for them to do final year on campus.”

The students who spoke to Trinity News on this issue remain divided on whether exaggeration on the accommodation application form is a ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’ situation. However, Trinity’s campus dwellers and commuters are united in their criticism of College’s lack of transparency on the criteria of the room allocation. As one student put it: “College has a lot to answer for.” 

“‘The panic that you feel is like you would do anything to get somewhere'”

By maintaining the ambiguity of the process of assigning accommodation, College pits students against one another. Molnárfi touched on how students should be able to access accommodation not only because it helps to enable the bare minimum of effective, manageable study, but also because “it makes perfect sense for people to want to move out, to have their own life, to live autonomously.” Students were also often united in their interviews by an overwhelming sympathy for one another. Annie Neil, a final year European Studies student from Belfast currently living in Goldsmith Hall said: “I understand [exaggeration on the application] because Dublin is just so hard to get anywhere… the panic that you feel is like you would do anything to get somewhere.”