The Low-Down on 'Stealth Dorm' Limits

Single-family homes inhabited by a large number of students often irritate neighbors, who complain of increased traffic, elevated noise levels, excessive use of parking and increased presence of trash in the area.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth de Regt

Austin City Council’s vote to reduce occupancy levels in ‘stealth dorms’ further increases the difficulty students face when it comes to housing. The vote in February that approved the new limits constitutes one of three votes that will be held on the issue.

‘Stealth dorms’ refer to homes or duplexes that are rented out by several, unrelated adults — much of the time students — as a form of housing. 

The initial approval for the new limits changes the number of unrelated adults that can live in a single-family home from six to four. This would apply only to homes that are built in the future, so those existing currently remain exempt. Currently there are at least 400 of these stealth dorms, according to Sarah Coppola of the Austin American-Statesman. 

With increasing rent in Riverside and West Campus, reducing occupancy limits in single-family neighborhoods does not help the difficult housing situation students currently face. The homes provide students with alternatives to living on campus or in other areas of Austin that may be more costly. The residential setting can also offer a more spacious, home-like feel — something students might desire while at school.

UT President Bill Powers stated in his blog that the Class of 2016 constituted a record with over 8000 undergraduates — all of whom need a place to stay. These large class sizes coupled with the incoming Dell Medical School means the demand for student housing will only go up.

By limiting access to housing options, the city only further burdens students who are already hard-pressed financially. According to Forbes, two-thirds of students coming out of American universities are graduating with some form of debt. The average debt of a student is almost $27,000 as determined by the Institute for College Access and Success. 

Those who have petitioned the City Council to set these new limits cite a wide range of reasons for opposing stealth dorms. Residents have complained about vandalism, trash overflow, parking and traffic issues, as well as noise complaints. There have also been complaints about unsafe conditions for children in these neighborhoods when it comes to walking, cycling and other common outdoor activities.

“I see where the residents are coming from, but setting this new occupancy limit won’t solve the problem,” said biology junior Saheer Patel.

While there are two sides to every story, limiting the number of students that can live together may not necessarily be the only solution available to the City Council. 

“I feel like a dialogue between students and residents should be emphasized instead,” Patel said. “The poor decisions of a few shouldn’t reflect on all students living in these homes, and I feel like that isn’t being communicated.”