West Campus Student Housing: An Invisible Financial Barrier?

West Campus Student Housing: An Invisible Financial Barrier?

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Alexandra Martinez started this petition to City of Austin, Texas and

Access to affordable housing continues as a large standing problem at the University of Texas at Austin. If the tuition isn’t enough to drive a wedge between students and access to higher education, the cost of living expenses sure are. 

Between 2005 and 2010, rent prices almost doubled, more than any other metropolitan city in the nation. At UT Austin, the median annual rent in the neighborhoods closest to campus exceeds the annual in-state tuition—about $11,000 for the upcoming academic year, even without including other costs such as utilities and groceries. 

Population growth certainly influences rent prices. However, this alone cannot explain the dramatic rise in rents. But national developers starting to eye the areas around public universities as a growth market, sure are. According to recent  statistics, more than 80% of UT-Austin students live in off-campus housing (predominantly in west and north campus). Therefore, as long as there are students who need housing, landlords will continue to price gouge. 

For those who cannot afford to live within walking distance from the university, have therefore moved into East Riverside. A more affordable neighborhood for low-moderate income students; however, it comes with an hour’s round trip to campus. Thus, the lack of affordable housing fuels economic stratification between students that can afford to live near campus and access university resources, as opposed to students that have to struggle to get to campus, or take on a part-time job or loans if they don't have additional financial resources to live near campus. 

While S.MA.R.T Housing was designed to provide affordable housing to low-to moderate- income residents (those who either receive need-based financial aid or do not make more than 50-80% of the median income in Austin) below market price units are high in demand but limited. 

Since the rise of COVID-19, an overwhelming number of students have been temporarily laid off or faced substantial cuts in hours, considering most have part-time jobs within the university and the service industry. This has left students worried about being able to afford rent. While most classes will remain online through the end of the academic year, students are still binded to their original leasing contracts. Leaving students with two alternatives - to remain on campus with financial stress or leave, heavily depending on a sublease to cover rent. 

We are therefore demanding west campus housing relief from the City of Austin and additional third parties to place pressure on land lords and developers for predatory pricing and the installment of shorter lease terms for students. The pandemic has shown the vulnerabilities that persist in higher education and while the university has not taken accountability or responsibility, our voices need to be made to ensure all our students have equal opportunity to fair and affordable housing.

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