OPINION: First time renters in Cork face far too awful living conditions

 

 

Thousands of us became renters for the first time September 2019, and thousands the year before that and so on. This is a completely new experience to us, whether we’re in student accommodation, in digs or if we’re in the private rental market. 

The last report Cork Simon did in November 2019 stated that there were over 400 homeless people in Cork at the time, men, women, children, but this doesn’t include students that have to couch surf just to educate themselves. 

That same month, UCC became the first university in Ireland to set up a food bank on college campus; this was after its decision to raise student accommodation rent by 11.5%. “The need for food banks on college campuses is indicative of the rising cost of living for students” said Naoise Crowley, the Student Union’s Welfare officer at the time. The SUSI grant that students receive has not increased since 2012 and therefore does not reflect the living costs students face today.

For my first year of college, I travelled up and down everyday, 4 buses a day. I had absolutely no social life and it was exhausting. At this time I could not afford to live in Cork either in digs or privately and since it was a PLC there was no student accommodation. Then, when coming into UCC, I was living less than 45km from campus so it was extremely unlikely I’d get into student accommodation, even though I have a physical disability so traveling was hard and buses were unreliable, so this forced me into the private rental market. This is the case for a huge number of students, they are forced to commute to college everyday on an unreliable public transport system due to the lack of resources the college has when it comes to accommodation.

Another side of the housing crisis for students is that many of us are unwillingly shoved into unsafe living conditions. There are a wide range of these types of situations, such as having silverfish in the room, walls covered in mould or uncomfortable social conditions. Students all over Cork are paying high amounts of rent to be in these situations, and would even call themselves lucky because they have a roof over their heads. The Echo cited the average rent in Cork City as €1,372 a month; in and around the city center the majority of houses have two bedrooms so if a student was to rent one room it would cost them €686 a month – very few students make this much money due to being in college full time! How are we supposed to afford rent, nevermind utilities, food, and other expenses?

When I first moved to Cork in September with my partner, we were paying more than €680 a month (including utilities). The only reason we could afford this is because he works full time. However, we lived in a very unsafe situation.. Our housemates, another couple, seemed relatively normal when I went to view the room – it wasn’t exactly a very clean house, but it would do. We were happy to have it, but once we moved in the problems started. I had never seen such a huge amount of drugs in my life – it was scary, and I was afraid of somebody overdosing at their huge parties in this small city house. I was lucky that I was able to move back home and travel to college again for a few weeks until we found somewhere better, but it got me thinking about the people who do not have that option.
Many students in UCC are forced into situations like the one I was in.  We need definitive action from a stable Government on our housing crisis. We need a rent freeze and lower student accommodation. We need compassion, for men, women, children, and students across Ireland – and we need it now.