An Eye on Student Issues: Affordable Housing

The S.M.A.R.T. Housing policy is affordable and an essential component for students who live on campus.

Photo Credit: Darice Chavira

As students’ housing plans for next year solidify, many may look dauntingly at their expected costs to come. It is no secret that housing near and around campus can become quite expensive. And, the burden of paying for housing may be felt even more by students who have to pay for tuition and work as well. Luckily, the City of Austin has recently proposed new urban development resolutions and expanded existing ones to address the affordability of housing for students in need of assistance.

Austin City Council instated the S.M.A.R.T. Housing program, which stands for Safe Mixed-income Accessible Reasonably-priced Transit-oriented Housing, in 2008 to provide housing for low- to moderate-income residents. The S.M.A.R.T. Housing division works with developers to build apartments that are compact and affordable. While S.M.A.R.T apartments are not limited to downtown Austin, several complexes downtown and near the UT campus offer S.M.A.R.T housing leases.

Several complexes around UT rent out S.M.A.R.T. apartments to students in need of financial support. To qualify for S.M.A.R.T. housing, students must be receiving need-based financial aid, be paying for college with student loans, or be working to cover living expenses. Apartments range from efficiency rooms to one- and two-bedroom apartments. Texan and Vintage apartments, 21 Pearl, Quarters, 2400 Nueces, The Block and American Campus Communities, among others, all offer housing that falls under the S.M.A.R.T. Housing program.

After learning about S.M.A.R.T. housing, Tess Hellebrekers, a computer science sophomore, said that she hopes to consider those affordable housing options in the future, especially after a difficult experience finding housing this year. “It's a give and take process,” Hellebrekers said. “Every student has to compromise between location, quality, space and price.”

While S.M.A.R.T Housing serves as a reasonably priced option for students, the City of Austin seemed to find that the number and availability of such apartments were inadequate. To solve this problem, the Austin City Council recently passed a proposal to further serve the need for affordable housing.

A resolution passed in early 2014 called for the creation of efficiency-sized apartments, dubbed “micro-units.” While the exact details of the implementation of these apartments are yet to be specified, these micro-units are specifically aimed to serve students that study at “institutions of higher learning in Austin,” according to the resolution. The resolution specifies that “micro-units are self-contained living spaces of 500 square feet, and less, that include a kitchen with a stove and full bathroom.”

“Micro-units seem like a good idea,” said junior neuroscience major Anuj Kudva. “Prices in West and North Campus are exorbitantly high, especially for a college student. Students don’t get the full college experience when they face the burden of paying on their own when it’s not their fault, so at least this is a good alternative.” Kudva said that he knows his friends who have to take on the responsibility of paying for housing on their own would definitely benefit from future housing development programs like the construction of micro-units.

Hopefully, the new housing programs proposed and implemented by the City of Austin will prove to be an effective and affordable option for students concerned about the expenses associated with studying, and living, at such a great university.