Unless you've been living under a rock you'll know that the renter's market in Dublin is a complete shambles right now. Rents are going up and students and young professionals are being forced to shell out crazy amounts of money just to have a roof over their heads.
Change is coming- although it may not seem like it from the window of that €800 a month box room- and that the head of that change is Anna O'Flynn, CEO of Generation Accommodation.
Originally from Westmeath, Anna is all to familiar with the struggle of finding student and young professional accommodation. She began studying Engineering in UCD and changed to Economic and Maths after 18 months. It was then she first discovered Enactus.
“It was a Monday evening and I wanted to go home then go back out on a night out. A friend convinced me to go along to this Enactus meeting with her. To be honest, I hadn't a clue what it was about.”
Enactus are "a charitable organisation which develops future talent by enabling third level students to create, and implement, social entrepreneurial projects which positively impact our local and global communities."
But for Anna, Enactus means so much more than that.
“It’s all about empowerment. In college there’s all these charities that might do events to raise money and awareness but that’s only one day or one hour a week. I know it’s kind of corny, but the best way to describe it is really, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day but give him a net and you feed him for life.
"We’re empowering people to rethink the way charities and social enterprises run. We’re encouraging people to make a real difference."
During a training day, Anna's group, many of whom were from outside Dublin, realised that housing was one of the biggest issues faced by our generation.
"We had masters students from the US and Germany who had come over a week before their course began and ended up living in hostels until they found something."
But housing wasn't the only issue they wanted to tackle. Elderly isolation is also at an all time high in Ireland- and it's a lot more dangerous than one might think. Loneliness increases mortality rate in the elderly by 26%, worse than both smoking and obesity.
“We also had some people from Dublin on the team who had lovely neighbours. They would pass them on the street and would stop for the chats because that might be the only person they talk to all day.
"One of the girls had a grandmother near UCD who was living alone. Many of the elderly people are living alone as their families aren't around or are living abroad."
So they thought- why not encourage students and young professionals to live with retired people with a spare room? So Generation Accommodation was born.
“I thought we were mad, we were only a group of students- how could we possibly make this work?”
Finding potential renters wasn't an issue on UCD's teeming campus- but reaching homeowners proved to be more of a challenge.
"We put up posters for events and coffee mornings but we didn't have much luck. It can be difficult to get people to trust you when you’re basically telling them to open their homes to a stranger.”
So Anna opted for a more personal approach. The GA team presented at a post-mass coffee morning in Mount Merrion parish hall. Luckily for them, they had their first taker.
“Once one person does it and their friends see them do it and see it’s a reputable source, it definitely makes a difference. They also see that we do everything to mitigate the risk associated with renting out. After that first hurdle there were far more homeowners willing to try us.”
The benefits of shared accommodation are palpable on both sides. For the renters, they can avail of extremely reasonable rent, as well as all the creature comforts of a home away from home. Anna also cites the "cultural difference" between the two generations as an advantage- to give the younger people "a different way of seeing things". Especially for foreign students, who can get the "real Irish experience" of being immersed in a local household.
For the homeowners, the increased security of having someone that they can depend on in the house is extremely important. The homeowners self-select who they rent to, promoting a good relationship between the two.
“Meeting the renters really humanizes them. There’s this stereotype that students are wild party animals and in the vast majority of cases it’s simply not true. Many of them may be fourth years or masters students who just really want to knuckle down and study.
“That’s why the coffee mornings are so important- they get to meet the person instead of the stereotype."
On a day to day basis, having someone checking in on the retiree can make a massive difference to their quality of life.
“Even during the recent cold spell the renter were able to pop down to the shop for a few bits instead of the elderly person having to venture out in the snow and ice by themselves."
This year, GA merged with the social enterprise Inhoming and will be officially relaunching in the near future.
The future is also looking bright for Anna, right now she's busy matching applicants to suitable homes, and has plans in the works to launch GA nationwide, with one eye on overseas expansion.
Feeling like you might have the next big social enterprise idea? Anna's advice to is utilise any supports you can find.
“There are so many support and programmes out there. Ireland has relatively small network as well so it’s easy to get to know different people and opportunities.
“Say yes to different opportunities, it’s amazing what doors will open.
"If I hadn't said yes to that first meeting I wouldn't be where I am today.”