How big is Australia's international student accommodation problem? SBS Punjabi has spoken to Indian students, government agencies and private sharing accommodation experts about the issues, the underlying problems and solutions for those looking for affordable accommodation in capital cities.
Angadbir Singh was in for a rude shock when he entered the rental house in the heart of the ‘world’s most liveable’ city only to find that he’d have to share the rundown roof with no less than seventeen other students.
An only child of Indian veterans, the 23-year-old student told SBS Punjabi that he was used to a ‘high’ standard of living back home, the exact opposite of what he got to experience in Melbourne.
“Six grown-up people in one small room was nothing less than a nightmare, to be honest,” said Mr Singh.
The accounting student claims each of them is paying $100 a week for their slice of the inner city, which when totaled for eighteen students comes down to $1,800, way above the median rent of $870 per week for a three-bedroom apartment in the CBD.
“Friends and friends of friends all live together and that’s how it keeps getting crowded. Sometimes we even have guests over the weekends,” said the young student who had chosen Down Under to pursue his degree for want of a better life.
How big is the student accommodation problem?
Mr Singh’s story is what many international students in Australia’s capital cities, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, know all too well.
Evidence indicates that living in overcrowded houses is a reality for many overseas students who pay tens of thousands in upfront university fees and are limited to 40 hours work a fortnight, under their visa conditions.
According to ABS data, 13 percent of the 51,000 people who were living in severe overcrowding at the time of the 2016 Census were students enrolled in tertiary education, like Mr Singh and his housemates.
Types of accommodation available for international students, according to government-endorsed guidelines:
-International students can opt for staying on campus.
-Taking part in a homestay with a local Australian family.
-Private rental-sharing a room/house outside the campus.
According to International Student, a global network for overseas students, most foreign students live off-campus as Australian universities provide ‘little or no’ university housing facilities. And even if they do, the berths/rooms are ‘limited.’
‘Lack of affordable accommodation options’
Melbourne-based student letting agent Simardeep Singh told SBS Punjabi that the lack of on-campus and affordable housing options are forcing international students into unsafe and in some cases illegal living arrangements.
“There are not enough houses for the influx of students entering the country to put it simply. What is further aggravating the problem in Melbourne at least is the lack of affordable alternatives, which is forcing students like Angad to live in cheaper and cramped houses,” said Mr Singh.
Acknowledging the severity of the problem, a spokesperson for Consumer Affairs Victoria told SBS Punjabi that they have previously received calls from international students who have reported problems such as “misleading advertising, rental providers unlawfully keeping deposits and bonds, unlawful additional fees and unsafe or unhealthy conditions in rooming houses.”
‘Students struggle to keep up with the rent’
Rhea Sinha, a business student from Sydney who waits tables at a local restaurant to support her daily expenses told SBS Punjabi that she is struggling to keep with the rent for her ‘tiny’ room in a compact apartment in CBD that she shares with two other students.
“I make $250 a week on an average depending on the number of shifts I manage to get. Out of which $216 goes into paying the rent,” said Ms Sinha.
“So in weeks when I don’t get enough shifts, I make less than $200, I have to go begging to my brother or friends. It is so frustrating,” she added.
Letting agent Mr Singh said students struggling to pay rent have different priorities.
“For these students, priority is to get a place they can afford. It doesn’t matter to them if the house is dirty, if things need repair, or if it’s overcrowded. What matters more is that they have a roof above their heads, which is reasonable and is closer to their universities,” said Mr Singh.
Other common problems faced by students:
Affordability pressures for students are further compounded by the added cost of a rental bond, furniture, and overhead utility bills.
In addition, in Sydney and Melbourne, with a general shortage of housing, students often find themselves competing with expats and young professionals in a market with rapidly rising rents.
Simon Hope, the General Manager of Flatmates.com told SBS Punjabi that language and cultural barriers can also play their part when discussing living arrangements.
“The student’s gap in knowledge of the Australian rental and share accommodation market can sometimes cause students to end up in unsatisfactory living arrangements,” said Mr Hope.
SBS Punjabi has identified a number of tips in the advisories issued by the state governments and share accommodation experts to help international students navigate the rental market in Australia’s capital cities.
Here are a few tips:
-Book temporary accommodation offshore, look for long-term accommodation after arrival into the country.
Bobby Gill, who owns an education consultancy in India told SBS Punjabi that they follow a practice of pre-arranging a mandatory 15-day temporary accommodation for all students who opt for their services to ensure they don't feel lost.
"It is very important to ensure that students have a good experience upon landing. A 15-day temporary stay ensures that they have enough time to settle down and find the right place to stay," said Mr Gill.
-Verify payment options while booking accommodation offshore to avoid being scammed.
Simon Hope of Flatmates.com advised that it’s very important for overseas students to always remain safe online and to never pay a deposit for a property you haven’t physically seen.
“Always call or video call someone before meeting them, and always meet the listing owner in person before agreeing to move into their home,” said Mr Hope.
-Check for on-campus accommodation options.
-For those looking for off-campus accommodation-work out your budget and choose a property that you can afford and is located closer to your university/college and other facilities, like a hospital, grocery shops, eating-out options, etc.
-Check the property in person; identify safety and cleanliness issues before signing the lease.
-Address any red flags to avoid being scammed.
-Seek professional advice from your university or a trusted government-endorsed source.