Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Austin’s windowless bedroom ban falls short

Anuja Manjrekar

Last month, Austin City Council approved a resolution banning the construction of windowless bedrooms. While the resolution may seem like an appropriate solution to the destitute living conditions of many off-campus UT students, it does not completely prevent West Campus developers from perpetuating unfair housing conditions.  

Regardless of whether the resolution is effective, we cannot ignore that access to natural light is crucial for our mental health. We must examine the ban from a holistic perspective and question its actual impacts. 

The resolution’s first flaw is that it can not be drafted as an ordinance until August 2024. Meanwhile, current codes will continue to negatively affect over 17,000 West Campus residents, with some already living in windowless bedrooms and others paying premium prices for natural lighting. Developers can continue to construct new apartments that circumvent the proposed natural light ordinance until they have to. 

Considering how quickly high-rises pop up near campus, an increase in windowless units before the August 2024 deadline is inevitable. 

“It’s a question of urgency and timing,” said Jacob Wegmann, associate professor in the School of Architecture. “Many, many months will go by without change, which means that hundreds of units could get approved in the meantime.” 

Wegmann, who researches housing affordability and real estate development, said he was distressed to learn that so many students live without windows in West Campus. 

“Denser cities like LA and New York had long ago doctored versions of the building code where it is totally illegal to build windowless bedrooms, but Austin has not done that,” Wegmann said. 

As someone who lives in a windowless apartment, I understand the unpopular argument in favor of windowless bedrooms. Sacrificing a window allows me to pay significantly less than my roommates who have windows. Although natural light is wonderful for students’ mental health, being able to afford a place to live takes precedence. 

My situation is unique because I live in an older, smaller complex with spacious rooms and a west-facing balcony in the common area — amenities that are rare in new high-rises. While my circumstances make my windowless bedroom acceptable, that’s simply not the case for most students.

“I personally would not give up my window, but it’s also coming from a place of privilege,” history freshman Ava Snoozy said. 

Snoozy and her roommates sought to find an apartment where each resident had a window. While they were successful, they struggled with a series of considerations like view premiums.  

“(For example), if you’re looking at the tower, you pay more,” Snoozy said. “That applies to everyone in the unit, even if people don’t have windows.”  

The proposed windowless room ban raises similar issues of fairness. For example, one of my roommates technically has a window and pays accordingly, but that window faces a dark hallway. Therefore, we must define what is considered sufficient for students. 

Wegmann suggested that the city incentivizes affordable housing, which was last implemented in Austin in 2004. These policies would allow developers to build larger complexes, provided they agree to facilitate a certain number of units below the market rate.  

“2004 was a long time ago,” Wegmann said. “So, I think now would be a good time to take another look at the zoning there.” 

Wegmann encouraged students to reach out to Austin City Council member Zo Quadri with their concerns. He also hopes that UT will act on students’ behalf to mitigate the ongoing West Campus housing crisis. 

Lawmakers must consider the nuanced struggles of student housing and outline more effective solutions within the ordinance, since developers can still find new methods to prey on students. Only following these stipulations can the ordinance take effect, and it must do so immediately. While the proposed windowless room ban is well-intentioned, the resolution contains several deficiencies that require correction before it can be truly effective.  

Jackson is a Plan II and journalism sophomore from Boerne, Texas.

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