Housing crisis chips away at young Texan dreams

Audrey Dahlkemper, Contributer

Editor’s Note: This column was submitted to the Texan by a member of the UT community.

I received my acceptance letter to UT in June 2021. It is a memory that, like many of you, I will remember forever. College is one of those few times when life starts anew. You enter into a place with unlimited opportunities. However, at UT, those opportunities did not include finding an affordable place to live. 

With no car, I had to find a place close to campus, and as an out-of-state student, I had to find a place for under $1,000 per month. Paying more was out of the question for my family. I was shocked to see that everywhere I looked was full, decrepit or expensive — a sharp contrast from the vibrant city I had been imagining. I ended up signing a lease for a shared, windowless bedroom that cost me $900 a month. This isn’t an issue that only out-of-state students experience. 

For in-state students, housing can cost more than tuition itself. Yes, living near school can cost more than your education. As of 2023, the average rent in West Campus is $1,043 per month. The minimum wage in Austin is $15, and the average UT in-state tuition is $12,217. Using those averages, it would cost $12,516 for a year of housing alone. For a student who has to pay for their education and housing, that translates to around 38 hours of work a week during the school year. Due to these financial burdens, many students are forced to make sacrifices such as living in overcrowded buildings, potentially unsafe housing or making long commutes. Adjusting Texas laws to increase our housing supply is key to the future of Texas. 

What some Austinites don’t understand is that housing supply impacts our academic success. There is an unrecognized time cost that comes with a lack of affordable housing. I have felt it during every shift I have worked during exam weeks. I see the exhaustion in my coworkers and friends who have to work long hours on top of their intense schedules because they pay for their education. What happens when we have to skip class or can’t find time to study because we have to work longer hours to afford to live near the university we attend? We are the students that will serve as Texas’ future doctors, engineers and teachers. Students who are forced to live in substandard housing or in housing they cannot afford are at a disadvantage when it comes to future success. 

Changing the outdated housing code is an absolutely necessary step to solve this issue. Increasing the number of houses means reduced demand, and reduced demand means lower prices. Austin is ranked the second most overvalued market in the entire nation because of the regulatory environment that makes it so difficult and time-consuming to build homes. High housing costs not only affect individuals, but they also limit Central Texas’ growth and economic potential.

A 2017 survey found that 65% of renters want to leave the Austin metro area, with 35% citing the cost of housing as the most likely deciding factor. Texas must address this crisis. We have the research that backs the positive impact of affordable housing on our communities, on our environments and on our economies. Every dollar invested in housing boosts local economies by increasing local tax revenue, job creation and resident earnings. 

However, many people are wary of the effect more housing will have on the value of their property. Several studies show that affordable housing has either a neutral or positive effect on surrounding property values. One such study looks at the effects of a reform on land prices which increased the ability to build more homes on one lot. In comparing houses near Minneapolis’ borders to those just outside, research estimates that the option to allow more homes on one lot increased property values. It is a win-all situation: The middle and lower classes can afford smaller homes while previous homeowners make more than they otherwise would have on their lots. 

The housing crisis in Austin is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive solution. Changing the housing code is a crucial step in addressing this crisis and ensuring that students have access to safe, affordable and convenient housing. By taking action, Texas can support the well-being and success of its students while also promoting the city’s long-term growth and prosperity.

Dahlkemper is an anthropology senior from Washington, D.C.