UT has always faced a shortage of student housing, unable to guarantee even freshmen students the experience of on-campus living. Thousands of students are forced to find housing off campus in locations such as Riverside, North Campus and West Campus — the most popular location.
The global pandemic cost millions their jobs and has prompted many students to scramble to find space in their wallets to fund a college education and housing.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and universitywide tuition increases, UT must assist students during this housing crisis. UT should purchase off-campus housing complexes and lease units at fixed rates in order to help students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds find affordable housing.
A lot of students opt to live in West Campus because of its location, which presents the convenience of easy access between apartment and campus. Unfortunately, this ideal location often comes with a four-figure price tag.
Unlike on-campus dormitory housing, off-campus rent typically does not include the additional costs of food and utilities. A standard UT shared room with a communal bathroom costs students around $12,277 for the 2020-2021 school year. This price includes housing from August to May as well as an unlimited meal plan and utilities — two additional costs attached to off-campus housing.
Off-campus housing is usually based on a 12-month contract where most complexes charge students around $1,200 per month in rent, according to general consensus among students. Living in West Campus costs about $14,400 in just rent payments.
“On campus, we plan to replace the old Creekside dorm and also build new graduate housing on the east side over the next few years, which should add 1,600 beds,” Chief Communications Officer Gary Susswein said in an email. “We are working with a consultant to identify potential opportunities for public-private partnerships to create more affordable student housing.”
Madeline Purdy, a management information systems junior, said increasing West Campus housing rates have always been detrimental but especially so this year.
“Students don’t always have parents paying for them or the means to work a job, and Austin is an expensive city to live in,” Purdy said. “I have friends that use money from summer jobs and internships to pay for their housing expenses throughout the year, and a lot of those people don’t have those jobs this summer.”
UT has purchased West Campus property in the past, such as the 2400 Nueces property. By continuing this process in upcoming months, UT would be able to control some housing prices in West Campus and reduce the financial exploitation of students.
Expanding the school’s property portfolio in West Campus would be a capital-intensive solution but would enable UT to allocate more housing units to low-income students and subsequently reduce the socioeconomic bias regarding which students can live near campus.
With rising housing costs, students who are financially unable to live in West Campus are forced to find housing elsewhere. Faith Moore, a youth and community studies junior, lived in Riverside, but the two weeks she spent there were incredibly inconvenient.
“I decided to sign a lease in Riverside to try to save my parents some money, but after two weeks of living there, I realized I hated driving back and forth to class and my extracurricular activities,” Moore said. “It was just a distance burden.”
Students who live far from campus generally feel isolated from campus life, and for those without access to personal transportation, the trip to and from campus can be a hassle. Moreover, using public transportation can be risky for students during this time due to the contagious nature of COVID-19.
While living far from campus can save students money, it comes with its own set of challenges. The economic ramifications of the pandemic are affecting many students, and the University has the power and responsibility to lessen these effects.
Prasath is a finance junior from Westford, Massachusetts.