Last week, hundreds of students woke to find that their living arrangements for the upcoming trimester had been turned upside down. Montrose student residence, which is situated next to University College Dublin’s (UCD) main campus and is ran by the Aparto management company, told its current and incoming residents that it would be closing immediately, just weeks ahead of the start of the academic year.

Tommy McDarby, a Law student at UCD, found out on Saturday morning that the accommodation he booked for his final year had been cancelled. “I remained oddly calm at that point.” He says. “I started talking through it with [Aparto], who were really kind and helpful and honestly, I appreciated that so much. After about an hour, the official email came with all of the information. When I emailed back, the lady said she would do everything she can for me, but unfortunately of course, she can’t build me a house.”

Another resident, who is currently studying at UCD’s School of Computer Science, had been staying in Montrose at the time the structural issues were discovered. The student, who wished to remain anonymous, recalled receiving a phone call from the general manager – “[He] said that the building had to be evacuated immediately due to a health and safety hazard in the building that had been identified during the ongoing inspections.”

Having been told to evacuate immediately, tenants were moved to a hotel for the remaining two weeks of the current academic term. “Aparto [has] arranged for all residents to stay at a hotel nearby until the end of our tenancy period, so students didn’t have to look for accommodation themselves.” According to the student, Aparto has provided displaced residents with daily meal vouchers and has “made transportation arrangements for us to move our luggage from Montrose.”

Aparto has offered all affected students the option of a full refund ahead of the upcoming trimester. They may alternatively stay at the company’s three other student accommodation buildings located in Dublin’s inner city. In acknowledgement of these residencies’ distance from UCD compared to Montrose, Aparto have offered to pay for an annual leap bus pass or provide a voucher towards a bike or scooter.

McDarby admits he has personal trepidations regarding these options. The close proximity to UCD, he says, was the reason he chose Montrose. “Buses have a capacity limit at the moment, which means I could, in theory, watch 5 or 6 buses pass me in the morning, the 39A is a busy bus.” In relation to the bike/scooter bursary, he says, “the prospect of having to wind my way between two city buses is terrifying for me.”

UCD has predicted that undergraduate students will be on-campus for between 30-70% of their usual schedules come September. For McDarby, these estimates have become even more crucial as he now faces choosing either to live somewhere else or face a possible 3-hour long commute by car from his home in Carlow. 

“I feel UCD could mitigate, not just the Montrose situation, but the worry and concern of everyone who lives outside of South Dublin by giving us clear and robust commitment.” He says more clear guidance is needed – “We all want to be back, but at the same time, ‘ranges’ just don’t cut it.” 

With the level of uncertainty created for students by Covid-19 in the last 6 months, the loss of secure accommodation is an unwelcome added worry for these UCD students. “It is a nightmare […] to find yourself without accommodation with a little over a month to go, after having thought you were secure, that you had a place to go to sleep and do some study, no matter what happened across the road in UCD, was a really reassuring thought.” 

However, here lies an opportunity to build resilience, according to the student at the School of computer science. “This year has taught me to respond to unprecedented events, because to be honest, we often take things for granted […] In the coming year, I believe we all have to be prepared to take decisions at a moment’s notice, given the general uncertainty in our lives due to the pandemic.”

Gemma Farrell – Assistant News Editor