The construction of luxury apartments near college campuses is forcing low-income students farther away, adding long commutes to already-hectic schedules. Bloomberg Businessweek recently profiled Sabrina Martinez, a student at the University of Texas at Austin who in 2017 moved farther from campus in order to stay within her budget. Median gross rents had reached nearly $1,200 per month just off campus—exceeding even the price of in-state tuition—pushing Martinez out to East Riverside, a neighborhood where the median rent was $862 per month and where Martinez has at least a 30-minute, and sometimes more than an hour-long, commute to campus.
Martinez would prefer to live closer but is shouldering all of her educational costs alone and, financially, she can’t. “I would probably go to more events on campus or join more groups, because I wouldn’t have to rush home or take an hour-long bus ride home,” Martinez said. “I feel cut off from the UT experience.” Martinez likely is not alone: more than 2,400 UT students live in the same neighborhood, according to the local bus operator shuttling students to and from the university.
Skyrocketing rents linked to proliferation of housing targeting wealthy students
Population growth can account for a large portion of the rise in average rent prices near UT, but national developers also are partially responsible, as they have seized opportunities to create new amenity-rich housing for middle- and upper-class students. Bloomberg reports that its analyses have linked “the arrival of luxury student housing development and rising rents near UT Austin and the University of Michigan” in Ann Arbor, where students are experiencing similar housing challenges.
While developers say they’re helping to give students more housing options, others are voicing concerns about the ripple effects for lower-income students. “The rise of luxury student housing can have perverse, unintended consequences,” said Thomas Laidley, a doctoral candidate in New York University’s sociology department. For instance, research has linked longer commutes with a drop in students’ grades and graduation rates.
And even when students cobble together enough supplemental income to cover the cost of living near campus, they often lose the ability to fully engage with student organizations or volunteer opportunities, both of which make students more competitive when applying for graduate programs. “I had been in several clubs, including the Pre-Physician Assistant Society. I had to drop that, though, after I started working to be able to afford to live near campus,” Dominique Lopez, a University of Texas at Austin student told Bloomberg. “I feel like it’s hurt me professionally. It’s affected my ability to volunteer, be involved, and make a more competitive application for grad school.”