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UT Austin says it will help low-income students pay for housing

People walk along a walkway with UT Longhorn banners on light poles and under a canopy of trees
Gabriel C. Pérez
Certain UT students may be eligible for help with on-campus housing under a program the university announced Wednesday.

UT Austin students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year may be able to get money to cover a portion of their on-campus rent for one academic year.

University officials teased the new program in an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman last weekend before officially announcing the program Wednesday.

Students whose families earn no more than $65,000 a year and take part in the university’s free tuition program can get up to $1,800 per academic year (about 10 months) toward on-campus university housing. Students whose families make no more than $125,000 and who receive tuition benefits can get up to $900 per academic year.

UT says it will notify students who are eligible for discounted housing starting Wednesday.

But some students, including Ikram Mohamed of Pflugerville, said a couple thousand dollars for 10 months of rent is barely a salve for students in the state’s most expensive big city.

“$1,800 for an academic year? I feel like that’s ridiculous,” Mohamed, a junior studying journalism and sociology, said. She pays just over $1,400 a month for her half of a two-bedroom apartment in West Campus.

The average price of rent in the Austin area has hovered around $1,600 a month for the past year, after rapidly rising during the pandemic. The university says it prices the housing it owns similar to private housing; university housing, which includes a meal plan, will range from $13,000 to $21,000 per academic year starting in the fall.

“Some students are paying $1,800 a month [in rent],” Mohamed said. “I don’t see what $1,800 per academic year would do for students.”

University staff did not respond to a request for an interview about the program.

Low-income students are often the most burdened by housing costs, having to juggle classes and jobs to afford housing in central Austin. Students like Casey McKee would qualify for the program. McKee, a second-year student from Florida, receives free tuition because her single parent earns less than $65,000 a year.

“When you have something like a $170 parking pass that you have to pay for each month or groceries or gas or just any type of necessity that you need when it comes to living, I think that $1,800 goes a lot further than a lot of people would expect it to,” she said.

In a press release, UT officials said they anticipate giving housing stipends to 3,500 students. The money will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and the university says it will prioritize first-year students. It's unclear whether students who are notified of their eligibility will then also have to apply.

The cost of the program — about $5.8 million — will come out of the rent UT Austin collects on university housing.

UT Austin President Jay Hartzell said in a press release that this program would ensure more low-income students could live on campus — closer to classes and fellow students.

A second-year student from San Antonio, Lorianne Willett, said she couldn’t afford to live on campus as a freshman and that she missed out on study sessions because she lived farther away.

But she also said she didn't think $1,800 would make that big of an impact.

“That’s pretty close to two months of rent for me,” Willett said. “I feel like that’s not really anything."

This story has been updated to reflect updated costs of university housing.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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