The Boom is Back. Apparently

Evin Ryan takes a look at the skyrocketing price of student housing in Cork.

Anyone who walks through Cork City will see the cranes; and anyone who needs student accommodation will have noticed the soaring rents. Developers are eager to build taller and taller luxury apartments; luxury student accommodation; and 4* star hotels for tourists. It’s great for workers; it’s great for employers; it’s great for the people of Cork – right? Well, here’s my problem – it’s tearing Cork apart.

Property developers have their function in society, which is to provide as little facilities and space possible for the highest price possible – who could blame them? Their aim is to make money, not to give you a good deal. In Celtic Tiger Ireland, this was much easier. They could tell the building inspector there was adequate fire protection, that subsidence wouldn’t tear the building apart, that there was plenty of insulation in the walls – but now we know better. They have now instead set their eyes firmly on the luxury market. Places like Copley Court are charging €200 per week for a single room, with the new student accommodation on Washington Street boasting starting prices of €210 per week. Places like these are thriving from incoming first years who are afraid of being left without a place to stay. Developer led monoliths like these are not only a blot on our skyline, but a blot on our society. There’s a saying – “The worker must have bread – but she must also have roses”, but quite frankly we’re not getting much of either. For all the students who work their entire summers; who get a pittance of a grant from SUSI; who arrive in Cork for their first time full of hope to go to college – they are faced with a simple choice, to accept luxury accommodation which costs far more than any grant or wages will cover; or hope to find a room in accommodation which quite often breaks a whole range of fire or health and safety regulations. Even digs can quite often be out of the question, the prices can often be far too high and not allow students to stay the weekend. Does this sound, to you, like a society which cares about its young, its marginalised, or its impoverished students?

It’s time to call it as it is, companies like HATCH Student Living and Ziggurat are leeches on society. Landlords refuse to provide the basics anyone should expect from a room, and many of us are fed up. When you take a taxi, there’s a maximum price on each journey imposed by the government. It guarantees a fair price for the user. Similarly, the Low Pay Commission guarantees a minimum wage for workers. The first step to taking housing out of the hands of these leeches is to impose a maximum price on rental accommodation. Developers aren’t interested in the common good of the people, and will fight tooth and nail for the status quo. They will continue to build their ugly, non-functional monstrosities all across Ireland. As an architecture student, one of the things we are taught is that any modern building should be built to last 100 years; we’re taught that construction is one of the main sources of pollution on the planet; and we’re taught that some of the most incredible buildings are the cheapest. Unfortunately, developers are not taught this. I highly doubt the developer sees that their creations will still be standing in 30 years, let alone 100 years. I doubt the developer cares about the functionality of their creations as long as it makes them money.

If we want to be serious about providing user friendly and affordable housing for everyone from the incoming first year student to the people sleeping rough every night in Cork, or to build long lasting housing that won’t destroy our environment; we need to look to our councils and our government. There is hope left in this country, if you look beyond our two main political parties. There is an energy, and an eagerness to undo all the damage done by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and to reject the free market’s approach to housing. We can fix this mess, but it will take time. The only question is how high rents will have to go before we take action.