Australia’s housing crisis hits home for international students

By Linh Le   March 1, 2024 | 05:15 am PT
Australia’s housing crisis hits home for international students
International students at the University of Adelaide, Australia. Photo courtesy of the university
When she left to study in Australia, Nguyen Bao My anticipated culture shock and foreign curricula as her main challenges—but it turns out her major issue is actually housing.

My, a Vietnamese student at Monash University in Melbourne, has had to opt for a rental in the suburbs to benefit from lower rent despite the longer commute to school.

"The house I’m renting now is in the suburbs and costs A$1,000 (US$651) per month," the 18-year-old student told VnExpress International. She said that traveling to school takes 40 minutes at non-peak times, but that it can take over an hour when the roads are busy.

My thus occasionally finds herself arriving late to school when she misses the early bus. She said waiting at the bus station under the intense Australian sun can be quite challenging for her, and it often causes her headaches.

"It [the commute] is really time-consuming and tiring," My said. But she’s tolerated such conditions to benefit from lower rental rates amidst Australia’s escalating housing costs.

Citing data from the property market intelligence platform PropTrack, The Guardian has reported that national rental prices have experienced an 11.5% increase over the past year in Australia. Average rents in the country’s state capital cities have climbed an even higher 13.2% to an average of $600 a week, with notable spikes in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.

A report by the Sydney Morning Herald highlighted that rents for small, purpose-built studio apartments have surpassed $500 a week in cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE.

The Sydney Morning Herald attributes the surge in housing prices to a significant shortage of purpose-built student accommodations, particularly in central urban areas near major universities, coupled with property investors capitalizing on the high returns that often surpass other market sectors.

To manage these rising costs, My noted that some of her classmates, from both Vietnam and other countries, who lack adequate family support, have resorted to part-time employment to afford their living expenses. This necessity does not only impose both physical and emotional strains on them, but also compromises their study time. My observed that such commitments hinder these students’ ability to participate in group project meetings, thereby impacting their academic performance.

Reports have surfaced of foreign students in Australia adopting even more extreme measures to cope with housing challenges. According to Australian broadcaster SBS, Dezu Hu, an RMIT media graduate, initially slept in his car at his workplace in Tailem Bend, a rural town southeast of Adelaide, due to the scarcity or high cost of nearby rentals.

However, troubled by the loud traffic noise, he opted to pitch a six-person tent at a campsite adjacent to his workplace for A$90 per week, a choice that spared him a two-hour commute and a $1,000 in monthly fuel expenses from his shared flat in Adelaide.

Educational institutions are also taking steps to address the accommodation crisis. Reuters highlighted actions by Sydney University, which reported all 2,400 of its dormitory beds near campus were occupied, leading to the reservation of an additional 700 beds from third-party providers and the securing of hotel discounts for students.

Additionally, The University of New South Wales is in the process of refurbishing university apartments to provide rental options for international students.

Regardless of the approaches being adopted, foreign students in Australia are likely to face ongoing challenges, as the housing crisis is not expected to be resolved any time soon.

Your Investment Property Mag, a publication focusing on Australian property investment news and information, emphasized that housing shortage confronting the Australian property market is expected to persist beyond 2024, extending into the foreseeable future. This enduring predicament is the result of various contributing factors and is predicted to significantly influence both housing sale prices and the rental market.

Real estate information platform Property Update cites forecasts from Australia’s major banks—ANZ, CBA, NAB, and Westpac—which estimate a 5-6% increase in capital city property prices in 2024 and 2025.

This projection is consistent with observations made by PropTrack senior economist Angus Moore’s, who told The Guardian that rental prices will continue rising.

"Rents [in Australia] have been growing very quickly, and we would expect that to continue in at least the near term," he said.

While waiting for the situation to ease, My mentioned that many students might experience feelings of "intense guilt" about the substantial rental expenses their parents may incur.

"I think if I can manage my school work, I will also look for a part-time job to help cover the costs," she expressed.

"Although the future of the situation remains uncertain, I’m currently not overly concerned and continue to feel excited and optimistic about my stay in Australia."

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