KXAN (AUSTIN) — As Austin’s city council prepares to talk housing affordability at a meeting Tuesday, a special commission is working to make sure college students who struggle with rent have a seat at the table, too.
The City of Austin’s College Student Commission is comprised of 15 members representing UT Austin, St. Edwards University, Huston-Tillotson University, Concordia University Texas, and Austin Community College. The Concordia seats are currently unfilled.
The group plans to finalize a list of affordable housing recommendations to pass along to city leaders, giving students a voice in the discussion.
Commissioner Edwin Bautista, a UT graduate student studying urban planning, told KXAN some of the commission’s ideas include creating student neighborhoods similar to UT’s West Campus around other local universities, but adding tight city rent control measures to keep costs down.
“One of the goals for the commission is to help push the city into kind of creating those residential districts,” Bautista said, adding that as a student, himself, he also struggles with rent.
“I work part-time, and I make a quarter of the median household income,” he said. “That forces me to live in a reality of low-income status while also having to find housing.”
After a year at a sorority house, UT student Kennedy Lightfoot told KXAN she’s moving to a new West Campus high-rise next year, where she’ll pay more than $1,200 per month for a bed in a shared unit.
“It’s ridiculous, I think my parking is like over $200 a month,” she said. “There are cheaper options, but a lot of times the cheaper options don’t feel safe.”
In East Austin, affordable housing options are quickly vanishing for students at Huston-Tillotson. The historically Black university has seen the neighborhood around it transform as pricey custom homes replace older houses, many of them rentals.
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said he feels the city’s development code needs a refresh.
“Right now, what we really encourage is tearing down an existing apartment complex and building an expensive new one on top of it or tearing down a little old house and building one big one in its place,” he said. “That’s going to oftentimes lead to more expensive options.”
Meanwhile, students like Lighthouse are calling for middle ground.
“Something where you’re not worried the quality of the place in which you’re living, but you’re not worried about how much you’re paying,” she said.