By Ruairi Casey
LONDON, Aug 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mouldy ceilings, filthy toilets and cramped bedrooms don't make for the prettiest Snapchat messages, but students in Dublin are using the photo and video sharing app to highlight the city's housing crisis.
Members of the University College Dublin Students Union (UCDSU) have visited rooms for rent across the city to see what awaits many of the 52,000 students who received offers on Monday for university and college courses.
Videos taken by union officers show rooms with three single beds placed side by side, kitchen utensils kept in a bathroom cupboard, window frames lined with mould and a rickety timber frame perched over a living room coach as a makeshift bunk bed.
UCDSU President Kate Ascough said the series of films aims to shed light on Dublin's new norm: spiking rents and dilapidated apartments as Ireland's crisis of affordable housing reaches new depths. "We started it because we were aware of how bad the accommodation situation is for students," Ascough told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In one recording, a landlord demands an immediate cash deposit and a month's rent to secure a room, but offers no contract in return.
Ascough said the union wants to warn students about the poor choices on offer and the outright scams some risk.
"Snapchat is one of the fastest growing social media apps and it's used a lot by young people so we figured it would be a good way to engage our student members," she said.
A paucity of residential construction since Ireland went into recession in 2008 has resulted in a massive shortfall in housing in major cities, and the high cost of living in Dublin could now force some students to forgo dream university places.
Rent prices in the capital have reached all-time highs and its rental supply is at an all-time low, according to figures released on Wednesday by property website Daft.ie.
Karl Picard, 23, is a masters student at Dublin Institute of Technology studying political communications. Last year he commuted four hours every day to study in central Dublin, such was the scarcity of affordable homes in the city.
"It's impossible to find a place to live in Dublin at the moment. You turn up to viewings and there are 30-40 people already waiting outside. We've often been in situations were people would try and outbid other people," Picard told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The quality of housing is atrocious. People are trying to make money off people's hardship," he said.
"You'd end up living like fish in a barrel."
Prices in Dublin increased 12.3 percent in the year ending June, with an average double bedroom costing 633 euros ($744) a month. It marked the 20th consecutive quarter of rising rents.
To alleviate the crisis, student unions in UCD and Trinity College Dublin are running a campaign to encourage Dublin homeowners to rent their spare rooms to students, which they hope will free up 6,000 beds.
But to meet expected demand, Dublin requires a block of 300 student beds approved each month until the late 2020s, according to Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons. ($1 = 0.8503 euros)
(Reporting by Ruairi Casey, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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