When Sarah Jarrett graduates from the University of Texas in May, she’ll have more than $40,000 in student loans – nearly all from the cost of living in Austin.
Jarrett, a senior majoring in psychology, said her tuition costs have been covered entirely by scholarships and grants for the past three years, but she’s had to take out extra loans to afford the monthly rent in West Campus, a neighborhood adjacent to the university that includes many student apartments.
During her last year of college, she moved about 4 miles away from campus to an apartment in the East Riverside Drive area that cost $400 less a month, but the loans are still adding up.
“I couldn’t live in West Campus. It was not possible. That was really hard, and it takes a mental toll on you because you’re way too young to be figuring it out. I felt like at 19 I was not smart or mature enough to know how much things are supposed to cost or what to look for in a house or apartment,” Jarrett said. “That was definitely very stressful mentally for me.”
In Austin, the average cost of monthly rent has spiked during the pandemic from under $1,300 at the start of the year to more than $1,500 in August, according to data from a city consultant. As the Austin City Council focuses on how to address the affordability crisis in the city, some student leaders have been advocating for action to increase the supply of affordable student housing in the city.
Austin residents aged 18 to 24, including undergraduate installment loans online direct lender and graduate students, face the highest average poverty rates in Austin while also paying a higher average rent per square foot for student apartments compared to conventional apartments, according to the 2020 City of Austin Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis.
Multiple UT students told the American-Statesman that they have difficulties affording the cost of attending the university while also paying for rising housing costs. They say they’ve had to regularly skip out on grocery shopping, work more than 20 hours every week while attending class or accumulate thousands of dollars in student loans to make ends meet.
‘It just wasn’t affordable’
Krystal Figueroa, a fifth-year public health major at UT, said “it’s become increasingly more difficult” to find affordable housing. Figueroa said she’s lived with roommates in a variety of different housing, including apartments in West Campus and North Campus.
To find cheaper housing, she said she has had to find places to live that are farther and farther away from the main campus where she attends class.
“I’ve moved just about every single year just out of necessity, because rent would always go up for the next year,” said Figueroa, who is from Palacios in South Texas. “It just wasn’t affordable.”
This year, Figueroa said she lives alone and pays about $1,000 a month for her apartment about seven miles away from campus in Far West, which she pays for entirely herself with a part-time job. However, over the years, she said she’s had to make multiple financial sacrifices and rely on mutual aid funds and food pantries because she says it’s too costly to live comfortably in Austin.
“There’s been months where I had to pick and choose which medications to refill because I can’t afford all of them,” Figueroa said. “It’s been a long while since I’ve been able to comfortably go grocery shopping for everything that I need, and . I sacrifice a lot of sleep to be able to maintain myself. I just have a lot of anxiety because trying to work and go to school has been hard.”
College students, including the approximately 42,500 people attending UT and living off campus, might occupy as much as 13% of all the rental units in the city, according to a city analysis. Many of these students are paying significantly higher average rent prices compared to non-student residents, the report said.
The average price per square foot for student rentals is 1.5 times higher than non-student rentals, which enities, the central location of the apartments, and the frequent moves of student tenants, according to 2020 data from Apartment Trends by Austin Investor Interests.
West Campus has seen a building boom over the past decade as the city allowed for more apartment towers there in an effort to concentrate more students closer to campus, relieving traffic congestion. Yet, even with more apartments, rents are rising and out of reach for many students.
Areas like East Riverside, which historically has served as a low-rent enclave for students and others, are transforming as older apartment buildings are being replaced with luxury apartments.
Some college students are asking the City Council to take action to address the financial burden of rent on students. The city of Austin’s College Student Commission, a 10-member college student advisory board to the City Council, unanimously passed two resolutions this month addressing on- and off-campus student housing, especially for marginalized students.
One resolution calls for the City Council to collaborate with universities to identify sites for affordable student housing and appoint a liaison to help develop stronger relationships between colleges and the city. The other resolution recommends that the council direct the Housing and Planning Department to conduct a comprehensive citywide student housing needs assessment.
“Many marginalized (people) who come from already underdeveloped communities are most severely impacted by the perpetuating of . longstanding inequities and, thus, find their educational and career prospects curtailed by the inability to find adequate and affordable housing allowing them to go to school in Austin,” the second resolution said.
Valerie Faudoa, who paid all her housing costs herself without financial support from her family while in college, said she would have benefited from reduced housing costs. At one point, she said she worked three jobs to afford her apartment, and even then, she said she had to make financial sacrifices to afford the cost of other necessities.
Faudoa, who is from El Paso and graduated from UT in December, said she lived in the East Riverside area, where rents are less expensive than areas closer to campus, but she still pays about $1000 a month for her one bedroom apartment. She said a lower cost of living would have allowed her to go out more with friends or have a car while at school.
“While I understand that Austin is a growing city, I think that the rising cost of living every year is ridiculous, and it makes it impossible for primarily people of color who are Austin locals to stay in Austin,” Faudoa said. “Even with apartments on Riverside that are significantly cheaper than a West Campus apartment, it definitely still is something that causes financial hardship.”