Alberto Jorge Vazquez Anderson

Alberto Jorge Vazquez Anderson and his wife were on a waitlist of more than 800 people before moving into the Colorado University Apartments. Last week, the Graduate Student Assembly passed a resolution requesting new opportunities for graduate housing. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Alberto Jorge Vazquez Anderson, a graduate student from Mexico, came to the University in 2011 to study chemical engineering and quickly realized Austin is an expensive place to live. 

Vazquez and his wife put their names on a waitlist more than 800 people long to get into more affordable graduate student housing offered by University Apartments. Some people on the list have been waiting for housing since 2008. 

University Apartments — Brackenridge, Gateway and Colorado — offer 715 units to all students with at least 30 credit hours. 93.2 percent of its occupants are graduate and professional students, and 74.9 percent of its occupants are international graduate students with spouses and children, according to Sheril Smith, associate director for University Apartments. 

The average wait time for students who apply to the University Apartments is six months to one year or longer, according to Smith.

“I think there is a need for housing in Austin in general,” Smith said. “It’s a very challenging market.”

Because the amount of students on the waitlist is more than the amount of apartments available, the Graduate Student Assembly passed a resolution last Wednesday requesting the Division of Students Affairs investigate opportunities to expand affordable graduate student housing.

According to Smith, although the apartments are in ongoing renovations, there are no plans for any new construction. John Dalton, assistant dean of graduate studies, said he was also unaware of any plans for new housing projects.

“We are always talking and thinking about housing that is affordable and dedicated to graduate students, but I am unaware of any plans to build new facilities,” Dalton said.

GSA President David Villarreal said the Dell Medical School, which will accept its first class in 2016, would bring a greater need for graduate student housing to the already competitive housing market in Austin.

Graduate students are eligible to live in on-campus housing, but Villarreal said the length of time these students stay on campus makes it difficult to live in contracted dormitory housing. The University Apartments allow students to occupy an apartment unit for up to seven years without reapplying each spring.

“Dormitory housing, which is convenient for undergraduates, is more challenging for graduate parents, their families and international students,” Villarreal said. “University Apartments is really the last affordable housing option for [graduate] students.”

Former GSA President Columbia Mishra, who authored the legislation in support of affordable graduate student housing, said there was a need for more affordable housing closer to campus.

“We would also like the areas closer to campus, such as the Red River and North Campus area, to be further explored for affordable graduate student housing opportunities since they are closer to campus or well connected to campus,” Mishra said. Mishra said graduate students tend to live in areas such as Far West and Riverside because of their affordability, but these locations tend to make it difficult to get to campus and are not as safe.

“Austin is a growing city with housing rents on the rise, and these rents will only continue to become more expensive,” Mishra said. “It makes UT-Austin less competitive when it comes to attracting the best and the brightest graduate students.”

Unlike most graduate students who are unable to be placed in the popular complexes, Vazquez and his wife found out they would be living in the Colorado Apartment within six months of applying.

According to Vazquez, he has had almost no problems in the 52-year-old Colorado Apartment complex. Vazquez said its location near running trails, bus routes and Lady Bird Lake made it the perfect place for the couple, who will be expecting a child in September.

“When I applied here, I basically knew there was a long waitlist, and I didn’t think I was going to be offered an apartment so soon,” Vazquez said. “It’s the best value and a very good deal.”

Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

Amit Kumar Singh, an international civil engineering graduate student from India, realized how little international students know about the US health care system after his friend cut her hand open on a glass bottle. Two weeks after navigating 911 calls and an ambulance ride through a language barrier, she was billed $1600 for what could have been a relatively inexpensive procedure at a normal urgent care clinic — had she known that option was available to her.

“We should not learn by accident,” Singh said. “In the international community, we don’t have awareness. There is information and it is accessible. But we don’t know.”

Susan Hochman, University Health Services assistant director, said although there is information regarding how to handle health care emergencies available for students both online and through their 24-hour nurse hotline, lack of awareness about these available resources is an issue that has been on the health services’ radar for a while now.

“It’s very complicated to get information to students, period — specifically graduate, international students,” Hochman said. “It’s difficult to understand the US health care system … We recognize it is a challenge and are open to any suggestions for how to better reach students with this information.”

For non-emergency situations such as fractured bones and bleeding, University Health Services has an urgent care clinic where students with student health insurance plans can receive care for free. This is the case for international students, who are required to purchase a student insurance plan. Domestic students without insurance may pay at a later date through their “What I Owe” online portal.

In response to the lack of awareness of these resources shared by many international students, Alberto Jorge Vazquez Anderson, international chemical engineering student and Graduate Student Assembly program director, and his assembly committee met with health services representatives to discuss ways to inform students of the services available.

“When you come here [from another country], you have a mind-set that is already established,” Vazquez-Anderson said. “When you have an accident happen, your first reaction is react as if you are in your own country. But that does not work here.”

One initiative they have already collaborated on includes a “Did You Know?” section in the weekly Graduate Student Assembly newsletters. This section is dedicated to providing graduate students with information regarding UT health services and where students can find more information.

“We need to be a team on this and find more effective ways to communicate it,” Anderson said. “There are 5,000 [international students] on campus … There is a need that needs to be filled so that international students know where to find information.