Jumping housing prices and inadequate accommodation make the issue of living away from home very difficult for students attending Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT ) this year.
"Many people may not think it's an issue compared bigger cities like Dublin. Athlone will of course not be going through the same huge rent being charged in our capital city, however it is still putting huge amounts of strain onto students both due to the lack of accommodation as well as the rising prices.
"Many students come to Athlone in the hope of a cheaper standard of living compared to bigger cities. This is now becoming further and further from the truth. There are still students getting in contact with us who are struggling to secure accommodation and with term having commenced, it is understandably a very stressful time for both students and their parents," Mary Doyle the vice-president for student welfare and accommodation for the AIT, explained.
In her current role, Mary registers landlords and mediates between student and home owner if any issues arise and has seen first hand the emotional and financial stress that accommodation issues can cause students.
"I've had so many students call me completely distressed about accommodation. It's a competitive market. Students are competing with professionals who stay in Athlone after their degree and unfortunately, they cannot compete with that. As rent prices continue to soar and with the amount of accommodation available to students dwindling many students are stuck in a dilemma of whether to defer their course or not," Mary remarked.
The Rent Pressure Zone introduced in Athlone is extremely welcomed by the Students' Union.
"With the Rent Pressure Zones being introduced in Athlone it will cap the increase in rent to four percent per annum. This may not help us directly right now as many of the rent prices have already soared within recent years. However, it will hopefully prevent the cost of living in Athlone getting out of control for future year.
"Financially speaking, the houses are priced on average between €75-100 per week which is a reasonable rent even though it appears to be an increase on the rent from last year. But these rooms are snapped up really quickly due to students staying on in accommodation that they like as well as it being more affordable than some of the other options.
"Following this, we have student apartments, but due to their payment structure this can lock a lot of students out from gaining accommodation there. Many students and their families cannot afford to pay a lump sum amount for an entire semester and this leaves them with very little options," Mary added.
Focusing on the importance of utilising AIT accommodation adequately rather than overcrowding Athlone further with housing is key, the Students' Union believes.
"Athlone is growing, so we need to use the houses we have. There are so many unused houses and apartments and I would encourage those who have a spare room to let to students to do so. The number of people offering digs and self-catering digs has really made a huge difference in helping students getting a place to live for the year and is usually much more affordable due to living with a family," Mary commented.
Mary is encouraging students to not count these out as accommodation options.
"It is no secret that we are in the middle of a national accommodation crisis at the moment and I would encourage students to consider digs when searching for accommodation. Many of these houses are within close proximity to the college. The list of those people offering digs can be found on our website at www.aitsu.ie These options have really helped college students over the years and can still do so," Mary concluded.
Mary is requesting those who have a spare room or house and would be interested in renting it out to contact her by phone 090 6468067 or by email [email protected].