A residents group has sharply criticised the University of Limerick, claiming its alleged failure to plan to meet demand for accommodation for its growing student population has contributed to a housing crisis and students engaging in criminality in off-campus housing estates.
It comes on the back of growing discontent among UL students, some of whom have been forced to pay up to €400 a week to stay in hotels due to a lack of student accommodation.
The residents group representing people who live in areas close to UL where student housing is provided, including at College Court, Elm Park, Hazlewood, Milford Grange and Oaklawns, said it was its view that “years of poor planning by university management has led to many issues including the rent crisis and commuter woes for their incoming students and the antisocial and sometimes criminal behaviour of a minority of UL students living in Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs)”.
Concerns about alleged drug use, anti-social behaviour and criminal damage to student accommodation came to the fore during the Covid-19 lockdown last March, when gardaí responded to massive street party in the College Court area.
'Non-existent accommodation strategy'
The residents group stated: “UL appears to have a non-existent student accommodation strategy to house its ever-increasing student intake. The university has approximately 2,500 on-campus accommodation units for its 17,000-plus students.
“It relies almost completely on the nearby residential areas to provide in many cases poorly managed ‘houses of multiple occupancy’ to house their student intake. The result is these residential houses are not available to families and others seeking accommodation as a long-term home.”
It argued that “anti-social and sometimes criminal behaviour by some students living in HMOs near UL is, unfortunately, too well known to residents, community gardaí, environmental enforcement and cleansing teams in Limerick City and County Council along with local and national political representatives”.
UL employs private security guards to patrol its campus.
The lack of student accommodation close to UL is also leading to students being delayed for lectures as they have to travel to the university from further afield, it is claimed.
'Demand at highest in recent memory'
While acknowledging that more public transport would alleviate pressures on students, the residents group argued “it is the university’s years of continued expansion of student numbers without adequate strategic planning for where these young people will live during the academic year that is largely responsible for the current situation”.
In response to the group’s statement, a UL spokesman said the university “is aware that there are some students who have been unable to secure accommodation in the locality, with demand at its highest in recent memory”.
He said that “this has been exacerbated by a national housing shortage, a pattern of private landlords leaving the student rental market and a drop in ‘digs/homestay’ type accommodation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
“UL provides the largest percentage of on-campus accommodation per student population in Ireland (2,840, which represents 17 per cent of the current UL Student population). The next nearest is UCD which supplies on-campus accommodation for around 14 per cent of its student population,” he said.
The UL spokesman said the Plassey Campus Centre (PCC), which is a UL company, provides an off-campus section on its website where local homeowners and landlords unconnected to UL can advertise vacant rooms.
UL funded a local media campaign ahead of the return to campus last month “in an effort to encourage local property owners to consider offering their accommodation”.
The university also organised “a leaflet drop of over 6,000 flyers into households in the residential areas close to UL, to help students who have yet to find accommodation is ongoing”.
The spokesman added that “discount rates for students have been secured with local hotels and rooms have been provisionally held where possible for UL students”.
UL staff members have also used their networks of neighbours, friends, and family
“UL staff members have also used their networks of neighbours, friends, and family to encourage those who may have a spare room to consider letting to students. These efforts have been very effective and there are properties or rooms available to rent on the PCC managed off-campus accommodation list.”
He added: “UL continues to work together with Government, our partners in Limerick and the wider sector nationally to develop more long-term plans for student accommodation in Limerick.”
Last spring, UL-funded garda patrols in local off-campus housing estates following alleged breaches of public health guidelines and the public order act.
The university is currently funding additional garda patrols after “recognising the need to keep the community safe”.
UL Interim Provost and Deputy President, Professor Nigel Healey, recently appealed to any landlord renting an off-campus property to UL students to contact the university and report students who engage in behaviour that is likely to bring the University of Limerick into disrepute.