New partnership aims to investigate, solve issues with affordable housing around university campuses

Illustration of a person looking at apartments on a website

Last Thursday, the Austin City Council announced a working plan to cooperate with local universities to examine possible solutions to the lack of affordable student housing near campuses, like UT’s West Campus.

Proposed by District 5 Council Member Ryan Alter, the study aims to build a guide for future student housing development that is part of Austin’s Strategic Housing Blueprint. The blueprint helps prevent residents from being financially forced out of the city due to cost, according to the city’s website. The study would help inform recommendations on how to implement this blueprint, similar to the 2018 University Housing Overlay plan that created 800 affordable apartments in West Campus.

“Students, who choose Austin as their home, from across the state of Texas and the world are made to compete with other renters with greater buying power and less restricted incomes in the same aggressive housing market,” the College Student Commission said in a 2021 request to the city council for a city wide housing study. “Students cannot achieve their fullest potential if they are not situated in environments conducive to their learning experience.”

This new study was inspired by the College Student Commission’s report, according to Alter. The request recommended the city council complete this study to address student renter needs as this type of investigation had never been done in Austin.

“Unfortunately, the Austin City Council never acted on the College Student Commission’s recommendation until now,” Alter said in an email statement. “Instead of just conducting an assessment or study, however, we’re doing more to address Austin’s affordable housing crisis — a challenge that uniquely impacts students.”

According to Zumper, a real estate website, the average unit price for a two-bedroom apartment in West Campus is currently $1,925, which is a 10% increase from this time last year. With rising enrollment and increasing cost of living in Austin in mind, a February 2023 Housing Report from the Students for Revolution urges the University to create more affordable student housing.

“While the administration spends over one hundred thousand dollars on the ‘Make It Your Texas’ advertising campaign, the very students who make it ‘our UT’ are struggling with ever-rising housing prices and cost of living,” the SFR report states.

According to the SFR report, the majority of off-campus UT residents surveyed said their monthly rent ranged from $1,333 to $1,600 while the majority of on-campus residents paid $900 to $1,200 monthly. This difference in prices leads some students such as Natalia Guerrero, a health and society freshman, to stay in dormitories even after their freshman year.

“I want to be off campus in my own apartment; it’s just the cost, “ Guerrero said. “But for some reason, it’s like $1,000 plus. There’s no way for me to be able to afford that monthly.”

The tentative timeline requires the Austin city manager to submit recommendations for action along with potential impacts to the city council by the end of the year, according to Alter. He also said this study will impact future students more because of the longer timeline, but they are attempting to establish quicker affordable housing solutions for students like Guerrero.

“I want to be able to live close to campus, afford it and also be safe,” Guerrero said.

Originally published Jan. 31, 2023, in The Daily Texan
By Vivien Ayers
Graphic by Grace Cao

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