Rising costs of living in West Campus strain UT students

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Kiefer Shenk, a junior in business honors and marketing, sits in a moving van in West Campus on Saturday afternoon. The popularity of living in West Campus is causing apartments in the area to be leased very quickly and also increases in rent prices.

Photo Credit: Ricky Llamas | Daily Texan Staff

After being accepted to UT’s McCombs School of Business, Saleha Ali and her parents had a tough decision to make. Ali could attend UT while paying the high cost of living in West Campus or go to college close to home in Dallas.

Ali’s father Muntaqa Syed, who wanted his daughter to live close to campus, said living in West Campus was almost more than the cost of sending his child to UT.

“It puts a burden on parents,” Syed said. “The expense is much higher than what I would expect for a state school and it mainly has to do with the cost of living in West Campus.”

Characterized by its proximity to the UT campus and many conveniences, West Campus is one of the most popular — and expensive — living areas for UT students. According to Multiple Listing Service, a professional rent listing used by West Campus realtors, rent in the area has increased by about 15 percent since 2008.

At least three new apartment complexes will have their grand opening this year, including 2400 Nueces, Callaway House and 21 Pearl. West Campus has also caught the eye of some out-of-state and international investors, which increases the value of land.

The popularity of West Campus is driving up prices at older apartment complexes in the area, leading some UT students to share rooms or leave the neighborhood entirely. Apartments are also being leased quicker, forcing current and prospective students to make a housing decision or lose a space. 

Rent for recently built apartments in West Campus averages $1,250 a month for one-bedroom apartments and $850 per bedroom a month for two bedroom apartments, according to the listing service.

Officials expect a total of 2,484 additional bedrooms to be completed in West Campus this year. There have been more than 6,100 bedrooms added in West Campus since 2004, according to the West Campus Neighborhood Association.

Deacon Shields, a UT alumnus and the principal broker and owner of Ely Properties in Austin, owns about 2,000 units in West Campus. 

Shields said how quickly apartments are leased plays a big role in how they are priced. Shields said the rent at some West Campus properties increases 10 to 15 percent a year while others stay the same. 

Petroleum engineering senior Zeff Gibran has been living in West Campus for three years. After experiencing multiple difficulties at different apartment complexes in West Campus, Gibran will be moving to a new apartment complex for the third time in the fall to find a lower rent of $475 a month by living with five roommates.

Gibran first lived in 21 Rio, an apartment complex located at the intersection of 21st and Rio Grande streets. A 1,405 square-foot, three-bedroom apartment at 21 Rio currently goes for $2,985.

After struggling with repeated power outages, water failures and what he said was lax security at 21 Rio, Gibran and his roommates moved to the Quarters Sterling, which he said was less costly. The five roommates paid $500 a month each for a three-bedroom apartment. 

Currently, rent for a three-bedroom apartment at Quarters Sterling is $915 per room, according to West Campus Living, a listing service.

Even though Gibran is using his financial aid money to pay for his rent, Gibran said he is mindful that his parents will have to pay back his debts.

“I am still trying to watch my money to make sure that I don’t spend too much,” Gibran said.

Gibran and his roommates are not alone in their attempts to cut costs. In response to increasing rents, many students will share a bedroom with a friend, said Alex Ray, a realtor and broker associate at West Campus Living.

“The influx of new properties has inspired many of the older properties to renovate and upgrade to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’” Ray said. “The new construction properties, which are the ‘Joneses,’ definitely have higher than average rents and are setting a new bar for luxury student living.” 

There is a possibility, however, that the sudden completion of multiple new properties could depress rental costs in the near future, Ray said.

Syed compared Austin to New York in terms of its rental trends and rising cost of living. 

“The whole environment they’re creating is more like New York where you’re charged for every little thing,” Syed said. “As soon as you start having to weigh more people in smaller areas and everybody wants to be in the same place, the trends start shaping into an overall high cost of living.”