AUSTIN (KXAN) — Picture this: A private pool, gym, music “jam” room, computer and print bar with Macs and PCs, a lounge with a jumbo TV and a café right in your own lobby.
University of Texas sophomore and mechanical engineering major Amar Saini said he was promised all this when he signed to live at Rise West Campus, his first apartment. But his excitement was put on hold when move-in was delayed multiple times.
“It didn’t come as a surprise because you could see the building at any time, and it was clearly nowhere near ready, but it was annoying because the initial email just stated that there would be some compensation, however no statement of when the building was projected to be done,” Saini said.
Saini said Rise gave residents a couple of options:
- Option one: The company provides a stipend of $50 a day and covers a hotel. The resident still has to pay the monthly cost of rent.
- Option two: The company provides $200 a day and rent is waived until move-in.
Saini said he chose option number two.
“After seven to eight weeks, I am able to pay off about nine months of rent for free, which is amazing, especially since I just couch surfed between five to six people for those weeks and was able to not pay for any housing, just food,” he said.
Saini said he finally moved in at the beginning of October. But even after moving in more than a month after the original date, residents still can’t use the amenities, Saini said, and his unit was not fully completed, along with the fridge not working.
“Unfortunately, as happens in construction, the team faced unforeseen challenges which delayed the initial move-in date for residents,” a spokesperson for CA Student Living, the company that owns Rise, said. “As soon as we were made aware of these issues we informed residents as promptly as possible, roughly one month ahead of the lease start date.”
Why is this happening?
According to the university, the number of students currently enrolled at the University of Texas-Austin is 53,082, a 1.3% increase from last fall’s previous all-time high of 52,384.
More students admitted into the university means a higher demand for housing, but construction delays have a history of pushing back move-in dates.
The City of Austin Development Services Department said there are multiple factors that decide move-in schedules.
“Projects must pass all their inspections and receive a Certificate of Occupancy before it is considered safe to occupy,” City of Austin Public Information Specialist Robbie Searcy said. “If a project does not pass inspections for life safety and other code requirements, the Certificate of Occupancy can be delayed until those issues are resolved.”
The increased need to house students in this area places quick turnaround times on these housing companies to get apartments built. Between all the boxes that need to be checked before completion and construction delays, pushing back move-in is often necessary for apartments, according to the city.
The construction isn’t stopping any time soon. At least two more high-rises are coming to West Campus. Our partners at the Austin Business Journal report developer LV Collective plans to redevelop adjacent parcels of land on West 24th Street, one of which is currently a parking lot and the other is home to the retail center that includes Starbucks and Smoothie King.
The two properties combined would have 418 units, ranging from studios to six-bedroom apartments, the ABJ reports.
How constant construction impacts the surrounding community
Walking around West Campus, students run into construction on many of the streets. Saini said he has never seen the community without construction occurring.
“There are always nails, bottles, trash cans, dumpsters among other things that are all over the sidewalk,” he said.
“It is very dangerous,” Saini said.
Saini said he hears construction for these complexes beginning early in the morning when many students are still asleep.
Popular bar Cain and Abels closed down in May 2023 and was demolished shortly after to make space for a new apartment, according to a permit filed in April by a private development company. The bar was relocated to another building in West Campus, but the destruction of the bar caused an uproar in the student community.
Saini has lived in Austin for 20 years. “Austin has lost so much color. I truly miss the Austin of the past that was defined by local restaurants and shops like Cain and Abel’s,” he said. “Honestly, it was really sad to see places like that get torn down for high-rise housing.”
How affordable is West Campus?
The new apartments continue to go up in West Campus, and rent is not going down.
According to the website for Villas on Nueces, a typical three-bedroom unit costs around $1,325 per month for the 2024-2025 school year. Rent for the same unit was $1,200 for 2022-2023. KXAN asked Villas on Nueces why there was a rent increase and hasn’t heard back. This story will be updated when we receive a response.
The city’s Development Services Department said there are currently nine projects with approved site plans in West Campus, and two of them have active building permits. Each of these projects have some units set aside for affordable housing. According to the city, this means those units are income-restricted for those whose income is less than 80% of the Austin area median family income.
“Four projects in that area have site plans that were approved in fiscal year 2023. Two of those have active building permits. These projects comprise 712 total units, of which 108 are identified as affordable,” Searcy said. “Another five projects in that area have older approved site plans. Those projects comprise 917 total units, of which 189 were identified as affordable. Due to the age of these site plans, the details are more likely to change prior to construction.”
Compared to this area, the cost of on-campus housing is not much different. According to the UT Housing and Dining website, monthly rent ranges from $1,456 per month to $2,437 per month, depending on which housing option the student picks. However, these prices include meal plans, unlike off-campus apartments.
UT Housing and Dining said all on-campus residence halls are currently at maximum occupancy, another possible factor that pushes students towards West Campus due to its close proximity to campus.
What students should know before signing housing contracts
For students who want to explore housing options that are more affordable, North Campus and Riverside are other areas in Austin with a sizable student population.
Camryn Lupo, University of Texas alumna, said she paid around $650 to $700 per month in rent when living in a North Campus house in 2022.
Some West Campus apartments offer SMART Housing, an incentive by the city of Austin that, according to its website, “provides fee waivers for development permits in exchange for onsite income-restricted units.” Students can qualify for SMART Housing if they show proof of need-based financial aid.
Saini said he recommends others sign with apartments that are already built.
“At the start of this semester, I talked a lot with upperclassmen and even my other classmates and told them of my situation. Each one of them had the same response: ‘Of course that happened, it’s West Campus. What did you expect?’ or ‘You never sign with a new building, especially in West Campus,'” Saini said. “Going forward, I am definitely going to try and find something in either North Campus or signing with an established West Campus complex that has a positive reputation and longevity.”