First year students are most vulnerable in trying to find scarce accommodation, acording to Winters Property Management’s Enda McGuane.
The problem is exacerbated because more of the working population are now living in apartments - accomodation that was traditionally more popular with students.
"There is 50 per cent less stock this year, from a letting perspective, than there was last year. Those who will lose out the most will be students, and ultimately the main losers are first years. They did not know where they are going to college until the offers come out. So, by the time they come into play, there’s very limited stock left.''
Winters Property is the largest manager of campus/block student accommodation in the country. Traditionally this is the accommodation of choice for first years. It is seen as a safe, secure environment, parents book it, the first year students finds their feet, and in second and third year, the students tend to move to the broader rental market. However, Mr McGuane says there has been a complete shift over the past two years, and second and third years are rebooking campus/block accomodation in February, before the CAO is even closed, to secure accommodation for the following year.
. "One of our student villages with 700 bed spaces sold out in 90 minutes in February. In terms of everything else, we are at least three weeks ahead of where we were with bookings last year. For example, ITs which is usually slower to fill, were either full or 75 per cent before CAO offers were even issued."
In Galway, and other cities which are home to third level institutions around Ireland, only around 10 per cent of the student population can be accommodated in dedicated student housing. In the UK, that average is about 25 per cent. Enda McGuane says the remaining students which cannot be accommodated on campus are now going into the broader rental market. "That is a rental market which is under pressure from a lack of supply, lack of new properties being built, an increased demand for social housing and from a growing population and from the other side, in increased employment in the bigger cities. This has created a perfect storm."
Some local political representatives have encouraged homeowners in the city to consider letting out a room on a ‘digs’ basis to students for the college term. There is a tax incentive available to homeowners who let rooms, with €12,000 in income allowed tax free. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames says it is essential that students find a suitable place to live so that they can settle into college life.
"Last year I was aware of some students ‘sofa surfing’ well into the academic year. This is not a recipe for students who need to feel they belong in a place, and to study and apply themselves to their college course. A family setting can be ideal for first year students, in particular, to help them settle into a new life away from home. Every family wants to know their young student son or daughter has a safe place to live. We really have a housing crisis and there are no short-term plans in place to resolve it. Thus, the need to appeal to homeowners to let rooms to students - it is a good source of income."