Here in Ireland we have the highest participation in third level education in the EU. However this has become overshadowed by a student accommodation crisis which is causing a huge amount of stress and financial burden to young people and their families throughout the country. USI have reported that 58% of students go without 1 meal a day in order to cut costs and to be able to afford to stay in college. To solve this issue we could create a bank fund for universities to build more housing for their students and also start to decentralize third level institutes to outside our cities.
I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well with this brief, probably one of the most important any Minister of State could now have. Much good has come out of this debate. We can all look back with hindsight but this is a case of looking forward, although we have to learn from the mistakes made by all concerned. Who in this room can say they have not made mistakes or done things they might regret today? I agree with Senator Devine that this is an emergency. We throw out statistics: tonight 2,121 children will sleep in emergency accommodation, 1,700 of those in this city alone but as the Senator said, behind each of those is a family. We can only look in horror at what the repercussions of that situation will be in years to come.
There are two ways to tackle this emergency. First, introduce emergency measures, such as increasing rent allowance, which is all we can do. There is no silver bullet solution to the housing crisis. We need a strategy and a vision. In my county we talk about the number of hectares zoned for housing. How much of that zoned land could be built on tomorrow? How much infrastructure is there? In my county there is a serious shortfall in infrastructure. Without the infrastructure, zoning land is a waste of time.
Second, we also must explore what type of housing we need. Families today are much smaller than they were 20 or 30 years ago. There are more separations and divorce, partners move out and need accommodation. Those are all factors. We need to consider long-term leases on property. For a long time the mentality in this State was that renting a house was a short-term measure, for six months or a year. Now people can end up renting for 20 years. Families need to be protected and perhaps we need legislation to give them long-term security, so that they will know where they will be and will not get a letter one day telling them they have two or three months to vacate the property.
I was at a conference last weekend where a gentleman quoted a statistic from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, that every week 200 houses go out of commission in this country. That is a frightening statistic. I was not aware of it before then. What do we do about that? Do we tax that property? Do we give the owners an incentive to bring them back into commission? We need to consider all these issues.
The tenant purchase scheme is back in vogue, whether we like it or not and we can argue about its economics. Those in Part V housing are precluded from purchasing their houses. The Minister of State might consider that.
Ireland has the highest level of participation in third level education in the EU, this is something we should be very proud of. However student accommodation in our capital in particular is a continuous crisis issue which is effecting families throughout the country who have children going to university here. In 2014 57,000 accommodation spaces were needed to meet demand, this figure is growing and is coupled with sky-high rents.
According to the USI 58% of students miss 1 meal each day to be able to afford to stay in University. 34% go without heating.
Something needs to be done to relieve this problem which is spiraling out of control. A bank fund could be set up to fund colleges to build more student accommodation. There is also the option of de-centralizing University courses to outside the capital.