On March 31, the new City Council Stealth Dorm ordinances went into effect. As a consequence, for the next two years, the occupancy limit of unrelated individuals in newly built single-family homes in North and Central Austin will be reduced from six to four. City Council ordered a study looking into the effects of the ordinances. However, it was ultimately determined there was not enough time to complete it. Regardless, it’s likely that students will have fewer options for finding reasonable rent around UT. Austin’s rent is already the most expensive in Texas, and with the new Stealth Dorm ordinances limiting the expansion of affordable housing, the situation isn’t going to get any better.
Another unfortunate aspect of the Stealth Dorm ordinance’s passage: It’s yet another example of how students at UT are asked to fight for affordable housing when they should be focusing on their studies instead. Yes, the University could be leading the fight and building more on-campus units. This isn’t the case, however, and the next best option is for students to take matters into their own hands and get involved in lobbying for more affordable housing options in a city where their viewpoints and needs are often maligned.
Consider the language used by supporters of the ordinance, who argued that college students living in stealth dorms cause issues such as “parking problems,” “noise disturbances” and “trash problems,” all problems related to stealth dorms listed on stopstealthdorms.com.
While these are legitimate concerns, they pale in comparison to the concern of finding affordable student housing. The inconvenience of a concentrated minority is not worth driving up housing costs for an entire community of students.
Rising rent prices can, in and of themselves, have a far-reaching impact on the community in many ways, such as inducing unintended racial segregation and harming students’ academic performance by forcing them to live further away from the University to be able to afford rent. These problems have a much deeper influence on Austin and Texas than trash cans in the driveways of Hyde Park residents do.
Ultimately, while the stealth dorms decision was disappointing, there is a much larger and more complex component to affordable housing in Austin and UT of which the council is cognizant and interested in fixing. Councilman Chris Riley expressed interest in expanding affordable housing across the city by intelligently and strategically revising the housing code to foster things like micro-homes and what he described as the “missing middle” between single-family homes and high rises, among other potential options. However, none of these options are currently realities, and, until the University provides more support, students need to be at the table helping to fix the housing situation in the neighborhoods and communities around our campus.
Breland is a Plan II senior from Houston.