As Student-Housing Construction Slows, Government Mulls Plans to Step In

So far this year, student housing blocks with 971 bed spaces have been built in County Dublin, according to data from the Department of Further and Higher Education.

It shows there are still new complexes appearing in Dublin. But it does also show a slowdown from past years, particularly compared with the peak in 2019, when 3,034 bedspaces were completed here.

There has also been a slowdown nationally, according to the data, from that peak of 3,034 in 2019 (all in Dublin) to 1,917 so far in 2022.

The government’s national student accommodation strategy, published in 2017, set a countrywide target to add 7,000 bed spaces between 2016 and 2019, and 21,000 by the end of 2024.

So far, only 12,949 (62 percent) of those have been built out nationally, according to the data from the department. Most of these (9,350) are in Dublin.

The deceleration in completions of new student accommodation began about the same time that Covid arrived in Ireland, but it’s not clear how big a role that played 2020–21 – and, more recently, in 2022.

In any case, Covid lockdown restrictions have long since been eased, but a spokesperson for the Department of Further and Higher Education says that it is looking at how to intervene to make sure that the supply of student housing continues.

Together with the Higher Education Authority, the department is assessing the data to “inform the development of an appropriate policy response to state assistance in the stimulation of additional and affordable student accommodation”, says the spokesperson.

“The immediate priority for Government is to deliver on projects where planning permission already exists but where developments have not proceeded due to increasing construction costs,” says the spokesperson.

There is still huge demand from students for accommodation, says Maeve Richardson, the deputy president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). “Students are crying out for somewhere to live,” she says. But it needs to be affordable, she says.

Most students can’t afford to live in purpose-built student accommodation, so many of them are commuting long distances to get to college or staying in tourist hostels, she says.

Some students are homeless, Richardson says. “The luxury student accommodation sector has not succeeded from our perspective.”

Supply and Demand

The student housing crisis is escalating, says Richardson, of the USI. It has spread beyond the big cities to places like Tralee and Waterford, she says.

Lately, the USI has been getting complaints about shortages of parking on campus because so many people are driving to college, she says.

“Students want to make sustainable choices,” she says. But there often aren’t good public transport links for them.

Real estate consultancies give a mixed picture of what is going on in the private student accommodation industry.

A Knight Frank report earlier this year noted significant interest from investors in student accommodation in Ireland.

Meanwhile, a report put out by Cushman and Wakefield in late 2021 said the supply of new student accommodation in Dublin was slowing down. “The rate of delivery of bed spaces is tapering off.”

There were still developments completed in both 2020 and 2021 and plenty of student bedspaces with planning permission – 7,350 across 17 developments in Dublin, says the report.

However, commencements have slowed since 2019. And “Market intelligence suggests that several sites with planning permission granted [for student accommodation] are considering or have applied for new permission for residential use,” the report says.

It is not clear whether Covid-19 caused the slowdown and if it could pick back up again in time, or if the market has turned.

Lorcan Sirr, a housing lecturer in TU Dublin, says there appears to be no shortage of high-end student accommodation in Dublin.

Any slowdown in building more could be because the market is saturated, he says, or simply because investors have turned their attention elsewhere.

“The market might be saturated because purpose built student accommodation seems quite expensive for what it is,” says Sirr. “Students are paying high levels of rent for reportedly quite average conditions.”

Speaking in November 2021, student Caroline O’Connor said that too. “To be honest I don’t really like it that much,” she said. “It is way too expensive for what it is.”

O’Connor was paying €265 per week for a room, sharing a kitchen with four others and she had to pay extra to do her laundry.

Student accommodation in Dublin is around the same price as it is central London, says Sirr. “You’re paying top-tier city prices for a mid-league European city,” he says.

The supply of student housing is also reliant on institutional investment, he says, so it is possible that investors have simply found more profitable things to invest in elsewhere.

There are several things that contribute to profitability, aside from the rent, Sirr says, including the corporate structure of the investment fund and how much it paid for the land.

What’s the Plan?

Richardson, the deputy president of the USI, says that on-campus student accommodation provided by colleges is often no cheaper than the private student accommodation.

Some colleges use the income from rents to bolster their funds, she says. “We need specific, ring-fenced funding from the government to build affordable student accommodation in every single campus in the country.”

The spokesperson for the Department of Further and Higher Education says it is working out details of a new policy that would see the state fund affordable student accommodation for the first time.

“At the heart of the new policy is a commitment to deliver student accommodation to those most in need, and to provide it at affordable rates,” they said.

They didn’t directly answer questions about how students would be selected or whether the accommodation would be publicly owned.

This article was produced as part of the European Cities Investigative Journalism Accelerator. It is a network of European media dedicated to researching common challenges faced by major European cities and countries. The project is a continuation of the European research Cities for Rent and is funded by the Stars4Media program.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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