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UCC Student Accommodation System in Crisis

UCC students continue to struggle to find suitable accommodation as the number of available rental properties continues to shrink, which follows a broader trend across the country. Commenting on the situation USI President Annie Hoey said “There’s just not enough of the traditional-type student accommodation.” The Higher Education Authority has estimated that about 25,000 extra beds for students are needed across the country; in specific relation to Cork, a study conducted on available housing revealed that, as of the 1st August, only 87 rental properties were available, a marked decline of approximately 1000 properties for the same day six years ago. At the time of writing, only 58 rental properties were available on UCC’s official accommodation website, down from 67 two days previously; the vast majority of those rental properties were outside the typical rental areas for students, including areas like Douglas, Carrigaline, Cobh and Ballincollig. This could lead to 30+ minute commutes to UCC every morning, which may be unsuitable for students who cannot drive, do not have access to a car, and cannot access modes of public transport. UCC expects 3,500 first year students this year, as well as 1,000 international students, demonstrating the stark mismatch in the supply of housing and the demand from students in Cork City.

A number of other factors are also contributing to this crisis, with a common trend in recent years being that the purpose-built student accommodation complexes are typically booked-out months in advance of the release of CAO offers in August, usually filling up as early as March or April, with international students also taking places almost exclusively in many of these complexes, as their accommodation is usually provided for them as part of their course. Similarly, students in shared houses will often opt to live there until they graduate. Landlords in Cork city are rarely have to advertise open rooms, as students often go door-to-door, getting the landlord’s information from current tenants and then contacting the landlords unsolicited. This lack of movement, decrease in advertising of private rental houses, and the current economic climate has forced many landlords in Cork city to sell properties instead of renting, which makes it increasingly difficult for first-time students to obtain accommodation. These problems seem to have been further exacerbated by the closure of the old accommodation office, with the university moving to a new website-focused system that was launched earlier this year. This service seemingly does not have the resources to adequately help students find accommodation as it is a largely unmoderated, in contrast to other universities across the country, whose services appear to have far more direct moderation.

The accommodation crisis has also been worsened by the emergence of ‘scam artists’ who are trying to take advantage of student desperation for accommodation. In a notable case an individual rented a room in the nearby Carraigbarre accommodation complex (opposite St. Finnbarr’s Cathedral), placed his room up on Daft.ie posing as part of the accommodation service in order to scam multiple students out of their deposits, even going so far as to print up fake invoices for deposits paid. The individual, whose current whereabouts are unknown, is now wanted by the Gardai in relation to this scam. Carraigbarre accommodation service wished to inform people that, while they had nothing to do with the scam, they did aid students who fell victim to it in finding alternate accommodation for the academic year. Other instances of scams being perpetrated have also been reported in the local media and on social media, and international students seem to be particularly vulnerable, having little or no local knowledge of the area or accommodation for UCC prior to arriving in Ireland.

Speaking about in a broader national context, Stephen Faughnan of the Irish Property Owners Association (IPOA) has said: “It is alarming that a student may be conned by a person purporting to represent our sector.” The organisation has referred to such scams as “a rare occurrence”, but has suggested prospective tenants ask landlords for identification, ideally a utility bill or membership card, in order to verify ownership of the house they are seeking to rent. They also urge tenants to inspect any accommodation before giving out any money, and to ensure receipts are collected for all money handed over.

While a new accommodation development for UCC has been given the go ahead near The River Lee Hotel, even this development has hit setbacks. While Cork County Council had provisionally granted planning permission for the new accommodation development, which would house around 250 students, it faced strong opposition from local residents & business owners. At the time of writing, the project was stalled over concerns over the effects the development would have on the local area, specifically on light & noise pollution and on the impact on social diversity of the neighbourhood.