Housing crisis in Australia, UK, Germany, Canada deepens, international students struggle for accomodation

By Minh Hieu   March 6, 2024 | 03:23 pm PT
Housing crisis in Australia, UK, Germany, Canada deepens, international students struggle for accomodation
Students in Australia. Photo courtesy of the University of Adelaide
After studying economics in Australia for nearly two years, Ly had expected his rent to rise amid the ongoing housing crisis – but the immensity of the reality surprised him nonetheless.

"Rents have risen by a lot," Ly, a 21-year-old Vietnamese student at RMIT University in Melbourne, told VnExpress International.

Prices were already high when Ly arrived in Australia in 2022, and the number of international students seeking accommodation was also already rising.

With the financial support of his family, Ly could afford to rent a two-bedroom studio near his school for slightly over AU$300 (US$196.44) per week.

But by the end of 2023, the cost had risen to nearly 36% to AU$410 per week.

Some of his fellow international students took a long time to find affordable housing and settle in for the school year, he said.

Ly and his friends are among droves of international students across popular study abroad destinations like Australia, the U.K., Germany and Canada who are struggling to find accommodation amid the dwindling housing supply that comes with decade-high rental rates.

The student housing shortage is growing and is especially acute in the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Montreal, as well as other cities across Europe.

The supply of Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) in Europe, Australia, and Canada is not meeting demand due mainly to a "slow construction pipeline," according to research firm BONARD’s 2023 Student Housing Annual Report, as quoted by international education website ICEF Monitor.

Students are also increasingly making do with smaller rooms: the average room size in residences opened is under 20 square meters, and room sizes are becoming smaller, it said.

The BONARD report stated that in 2023 its "researchers observed the highest rent increases since 2018."

Canada’s rents increased the most with 15% year-on-year, followed by the U.K. at 12.9%, according to the study, which analyzed 14,317 student residences across Europe, Australia, and Canada.

Regarding Canada, Sarom Roh, a leader with the international student advocacy group Migrant Students United, told University World News: "An estimated 4% to 5% of migrant students are homeless. When we consider the numbers, tens of thousands are going to be class stressed, hungry and not knowing where they’re going to sleep next."

The situation is hardly better in Germany, where tens of thousands of students, including those from abroad, have been unable to secure housing for the new academic year.

The lack of affordable housing for students in big cities has been in a "deplorable state of affairs" for decades, DW quoted Matthias Anbuhl, the head of Germany's Student Association (DSW), as saying in a statement late last year.

The DSW currently manages around 1,700 dormitories across Germany with around 196,000 places filled and more than 32,000 students on its waiting list.

Meanwhile, the wait time at dorms operated by the Berlin Student Association is three semesters, said its spokesperson Jana Judisch.

The housing crisis was so bad that the Student Association in the city of Göttingen had to rent a hotel to provide students with temporary housing.

The shortage has raised the rents in Germany. The average cost of renting a room in a shared apartment in Berlin has doubled over the past decade to €650, which is €100 more than it was last year, according to research by the Moses Mendelssohn Institute and the flatshare platform wg-gesucht.de.

In the city of Munich, the average monthly rent has surged to 720 euros (US$781.9) and a camping site offered to let homeless students stay there at a discount.

In the U.K., many international students have to live in substandard conditions as university accommodation and rental housing become costlier.

Nazmush Shahadat, a Bangladeshi student studying law in London, found himself sharing a two-bedroom flat with 20 other men.

"The first couple of months, I couldn't video call my family because I didn't want them to see how I am living - that's sad," he told BBC.

Analysis from property consultancy Savills shows that there are still 3.8 students for every bed in London, far above the national average of 2.9.

The housing supply for students is also declining in key regional universities, such as Canterbury, down 33.2%, and Bath, down 35.2%.

Many students have chosen to stay with their extended family and friends, or live further away from their campuses to cut costs.

Some students are commuting from Birmingham to Leeds to keep costs down, the Guardian quoted Martin Blakey, the chief executive of student accommodation charity Unipol, as saying.

Looking to Australia, the housing crisis in the country has been worsening, leaving rents growing at their fastest rates in decades. Citing data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the first nine months of 2023, Bloomberg reported that nationwide rents grew by 7.6% over that period, the highest since 2009.

In the heart of Sydney's inner west, 23-year-old Raghav Motani, a marketing student from India, arrived at the country only to find that the room he had reserved earlier was no longer available, forcing him to stay in a garden shed for AU$290 (US$189) a week, according to BNN Breaking.

Cut international students

The rising inflows of international students is one of the reasons that has exacerbated pressure on an already tight rental market in popular destinations for foreign students.

Nearly 787,000 international students studied in Australia in 2023, up 27% from the previous year, according to the country’s Department of Education.

In Canada, official data show there were more than 800,000 foreign students with active visas in the country in 2022, up from 275,000 in 2012.

The housing shortage is also because investors have not been interested in the student rental market amid higher interest rates that have raised the cost of house construction.

A slowdown in the delivery of new PBSA, matched with rising numbers of students, is seeing students struggling to secure accommodation in the country.

The shortage in the U.K. has been compounded by landlords of on-street housing taking properties out of the student rental market to either sell or put on Airbnb, the Guardian quoted director of the Higher Education Policy Institute Nick Hillman, the as saying.

Sharing a broader perspective with The Evening Standard, Huw Forrest, head of U.K. student housing living capital markets at property agent JLL said: "The acute shortage in London can be attributed to various factors, including a very challenging planning environment with requirements for agreements with universities, affordable rents, along with high Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments. Additionally the pandemic-induced slowdown in construction coupled with build cost inflation have amplified the issue."

In a move to deal with the housing crunch, countries have tightened rules for foreign students.

Australia has recently issued new policies, under which international students would need to secure higher ratings on English language tests, and there would be more scrutiny on a student’s second visa application that could prolong their stay.

Canada is considering a cap on international students in the first and second quarters this year, Reuters quoted Immigration Minister Marc Miller as saying.

"That volume is disconcerting," said Miller, as quoted by Canada’s CTV Television Network, referring to the number of international students in Canada. "It's really a system that has gotten out of control."

He did not say how much of a reduction in international students the government is considering.

The U.K. last year announced initiatives aimed at decreasing the issuance of student visas like prohibiting international students, except those enrolled in postgraduate research programs, from bringing dependents, and eliminating the option of switching to work visas before completing their studies.

Taking a different approach, Germany last year revealed a federal subsidy of €500 million under the "Junges Wohnen" youth housing scheme, aimed at offering more affordable housing options for students, apprentices, and trainee police officers, DW reported.

However, the DSW assessed that the subsidy would not be able to immediately solve the housing crisis for students.

In an interview with national broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corporation, property data provider CoreLogic's head of research Tim Lawless assessed that housing supply is unlikely to improve in the near future.

"And it's hard to see it turning around any time soon to be honest," she told the broadcaster.

Ly shares similar views with the experts. Hence, he chose to share his studio with another friend to split the rent.

"I believe that international students should adopt a more direct and active approach instead of waiting for things to get better," he said.

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