In the late 1960s, with property prices soaring, Bobby Molloy, a Galway government minister and a graduate of his university, commissioned a report looking at the supply of building land.
Subsequently, in 1973, the Kenny Report was published. Her radical recommendations had the potential to change the way land is bought by local authorities, but they were never implemented.
Almost 50 years later, in Galway, we remember Molloy and the report he commissioned.
Next Thursday, tens of thousands of young people will receive offers for university places and the emotions between hopes and dreams will rightly boil up. The publication of the Leaving Cert results and third placements by the CAO always causes a stir. This reflects our shared commitment to education, which has served us well as a society.
Universities are themselves microcosms of this society, and the housing shortage we all face affects our students. But universities also provide solutions to social problems, not only through education, but also in research and politics for the pressing issues of the time … and for the next election.
There were 17 apartments for rent and 39 condos for share in Galway City last week on daft.ie; in Cork City there were 22 and 60 respectively; and in Limerick five houses and 36 shares.
Trinity College Dublin warns some students may have to postpone due to the housing shortage in the capital.
Over 1,200 students have secured on-campus accommodation at Ollscoil na Gaillimhe/University of Galway. Unfortunately, around 4,000 others have applied for a bed and are now waiting for a place.
Taken together, these numbers — each with a story of struggle behind them — paint a picture of the debilitating challenge many people face. The “market” has not satisfied the demand. Students and staff are angry.
Recent research by our university’s Áine Dillon and Professor Padraic Kenna has found that the cost and volume of student accommodation is a barrier to full participation, including for people with disabilities and some international students. The development of expensive, private, tax break-driven, investor-run student accommodation leads to higher rents and lower standards, they say.
Our university and our student union are working together to overcome this crisis. Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has also been seeking ideas and potential policy support from the sector. We welcome this solution-oriented approach.
One option—the best option, Economics 101 teaches us—is to increase supply.
In Galway we are building more than 670 places on eight floors on campus – the maximum density. In our case, low interest rates meant that financing wasn’t the problem. The main issues are the cost of construction and affordability for students. This new accommodation has a price of more than 70 million euros, which corresponds to more than 100,000 euros per bed.
Government funding to support affordable on-campus student housing would be a very welcome, positive policy response.
As is so often the case, implementation is key to success. The provision of such funding across the board favors the few who can obtain and afford university accommodation, to the detriment of the vast majority of students who cannot.
One approach is to focus support on students in need. The state could finance rooms for students with Susi grants. Properly regulated, this would aim to support those students most in need and improve access and diversity and would not be a distorting provision only for public sector providers.
Alternatively, Dillon and Kenna advocate student housing cooperatives or associations. These are common in the US, where students live in apartments they jointly own and maintain – run by students for students.
A return to government investment in large-scale housing construction and the renovation of derelict buildings—that lesson from Economics 101 to increase supply—is also a crucial part of the solution.
Even short-term wrinkles can be ironed out. Airbnb is taking a significant number of student rooms – up to 80 at the local level – off the market. It’s important to regulate Airbnb in accordance with planning laws and as anything other than short-term rentals.
The Rent-a-Room program offers €14,000 in tax-free rental income. A local outcry recently generated almost 300 beds. Some people lose interest when they learn that the program could affect Susi’s scholarship or their children’s health insurance.
Connected thinking suggests that if such income is tax-free to alleviate a crisis, why not exempt it from means testing in general to also support low- or fixed-income families for whom “tax-free” makes less sense.
Mr. Harris has shown a determination to address issues that were once long-term, such as higher education sector funding and the cost of education.
Housing is the hot topic today. Molloy identified the problem. This generation of politicians has an opportunity to offer new, radical solutions.
Sai Gujulla is President of the University of Galway Students’ Union; Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh is President of the University of Galway
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/students-seek-radical-solutions-as-housing-crisis-hinders-education-41959480.html Students seek radical solutions as housing crisis hampers education