Irish students in Berkeley refused accommodation based on their nationality

Some 8,000 Irish students travel to the US every year

Irish students in Berkeley have reported serious delays in finding accommodation in the city, just a year on from the balcony tragedy which killed six people.

All this week, The Pat Kenny Show will be reporting live from California ahead of the first anniversary of the tragedy.

Some 8,000 Irish students usually travel to the US every year, and California is a big magnet, with San Diego and San Francisco in particular proving to be massive draws.

Thousands of Irish students have been arriving to locations all over the state, and will be arriving for next the couple of weeks.

When students arrive, however, they are confronted with a real scramble for accommodation. 

A sign for accommodation at the Library Gardens Apartments in Berkeley | Image: Richard Chambers

I met up with three Irish students - Paraic, Emma and Conor - who are among the first to arrive in the Bay Area, and spoke to them about their search for somewhere to rent.

Paraic said he and friends were set to take an apartment in the Library Gardens block - the scene of last year's balcony collapse - but were denied on the basis that they were Irish.

"We got three places sorted. The three all fell through. The main reason for that is because we're Irish," he claims.

"We had an apartment secured in Library Gardens, where the students were staying last year. Had everything sorted. Deposit ready to go. And then he said 'Oh, sorry, are you actually Irish?'. And we said: 'Yes, we’re Irish. We're just over for three months, working hard'. Straight away there was an excuse".

One of the memorials to the six Irish students who died last year | Image: Richard Chambers

'No way would she hire the Irish'

Another student, Emma Kelly, said she was asked to stay away from balconies when she signed her lease for her accommodation, and also said it has become very difficult for Irish students to find places because of local fears of anti-social behaviour.

"I went up to one lady and asked her would she sub-let her house for seven students, and she asked me was I Irish. She said no way would she hire her house out to the Irish again over what happened last year".

"Basically they wrecked their house [...] it’s a massive problem this year with accommodation."

Emma has just found a place for herself and her friends, but has been staying in hostels in recent weeks.

"It's been an absolute struggle. We had two lads, they were on the street, and they put up a status on Facebook saying 'Has anyone housing for two people in the Berkeley area?'. So, we just got on to them and we said 'Yeah' and they came to our Travelodge and handed over €1,100 and they are living with us now".

"They didn't care if they trusted us or not, they were just like 'Yeah, we just need to be housed. Please'".

Students are now living up to eight to a room, and while that is not something which has changed completely from previous years, talking to people around town it is clear there is a huge rush for spots.

There is a Facebook group, which is used by the J1 students and and other Irish travelling on holiday visa looking for accommodation in the area, which is flooded with requests on a daily basis.

However, when there is such a surge of people looking for places to live, there are some people, inevitably, who will look to take advantage.

'If you want work, you'll find it'

The working situation has also changed this year. There are new regulations whereby if students are planning to head out to the the United States for the summer, there is a requirement on them to have a job lined up, or face not being allowed in.

Conor and Paraic have a fairly unique working arrangement, stating that they can earn between $650 to $1,000 a week: "It depends on how much you want really, it's up to yourself. There's a lot of opportunity over here".

"The money is good, I can see how people don't go home. If you want work, you'll find it out here. Every bar you walk past, you see a 'now hiring' sign, everywhere."

"That's what they're worrying about when you're going through immigration. When [the officer] stamped my visa, he said 'the stamp says 16th of August, make sure you're gone by then'."

Hear the full report below: