Set aside social housing for students, universities say

Students, universities, investors and governments grapple for answers as Australian housing costs skyrocket and availability plummets

一月 2, 2023
Source: Getty

Boosting housing stocks could be Australian governments’ “biggest” contribution to alleviating student poverty, according to university administrators.

Eileen Baldry, deputy vice-chancellor of UNSW Sydney, said that if governments quarantined social housing for students, it would help them weather an accommodation squeeze and cost-of-living crisis.

Students could face weekly rents of A$200 (£111) instead of the A$500 typical of many Australian suburbs, or rents could be capped at 25 per cent of income – as happens with other social housing schemes – leaving money to cover food, transport and educational costs.

While students are not specifically excluded from social housing, waiting periods often vastly exceed the time required to complete degrees. And while the federal government has committed to bankroll 40,000 new affordable dwellings through its Housing Accord and Housing Australia Future Fund, Professor Baldry said this would only scratch the surface. “It needs hundreds of thousands of new dwellings to come on to the market.”

Students are facing an accommodation crunch point, with rental housing in short supply and priced beyond reach. Many purpose-built student accommodation blocks are nearing capacity as international students return to Australia in greater numbers and compete for rooms with their domestic peers. Current residents, who tend to move into less structured living arrangements after a year or so, are staying put because of the lack of rental accommodation.

The dilemma is forcing universities to reassess their housing strategies. “We’re all looking at it,” said University of Wollongong vice-chancellor Patricia Davidson. “[With] our university accommodation…should we guarantee [everyone rooms] for at least one year? But then, do you turf out people who want to stay? I think everybody’s having that conversation.”

Universities are examining the feasibility of building their own accommodation, a year or so after many boosted their Covid-depleted finances by selling off-campus residential blocks that were short of tenants amid lockdowns and border closures.

Professor Davidson said student accommodation had a “problematic” business model, with many rooms lying vacant between November and March. “To run student accommodation well costs a lot of money. You’ve got to have adequate supervision, security, support. Also, although university accommodation and colleges provide an accessible zone – a useful place for people to live [if they] come from other places – it’s not the real world. How do you learn to be independent?”

She said Wollongong was trying to “reinvigorate” a homestay programme that had proven popular before Covid. “It could be a win-win because many older people are feeling the financial pressure [and] have a few spare bedrooms that might [earn them] income. And we also have this endemic loneliness problem.” But many young people were resistant to living in places that were “like an extension of home”, she acknowledged.

A recent Student Accommodation Association forum in Sydney heard that accommodation had a “powerful” influence on the mental health of tertiary students – particularly foreigners who became vulnerable to deception and exploitation when a lack of affordable accommodation forced them into “boarding houses or other insecure accommodation arrangements”.

“Our research has suggested that students who live on campus…are likely to experience less social isolation,” said Heather Kettle, director of student experience and mobility with the federal education department’s international policy branch.



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Reader's comments (1)

Why has student housing now become more of a problem? It used to be the case [80s-90s] that domestic students usually studied in their home town/city and lived at home whilst studying. In my experience Conflating university entrance as the time to find ones' own home is more a UK disease. University housing in Australia was primarily needed by students from rural areas/interstate, international students. Have those categories grown that suddenly? A little more background and quantitative analysis would have improved the article.