Uproar over University of Tasmania student accommodation offer

University of Tasmania student Kaitlyn Bailey is 15 weeks pregnant and unsure of where she will be living next year. Picture: Richard Jupe.

Hobart City councillor Holly Ewin has called on the University of Tasmania to prioritise students already living in residential accommodation for rooms in Hobart next year.

UTAS this week told students living in residential accommodation it had received more applications than it could service and that it would prioritise placement for first-year students and regional Tasmanians.

Separately, commencing international students were offered an opportunity to “jump the queue” if they paid upfront, though this was later retracted.

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Cr Ewin says she “strongly condemned” UTAS for its handling of the situation.

“At the rate of just 0.7% Hobart has the lowest vacancy rate of any city in the country,” she says.

“Recent data from Shelter Tasmania shows that Hobart is Australia’s least affordable city for renters.

None of us know if we’re allowed to stay. We’re in limbo

“I urge UTAS to prioritise current students in their accommodation so that those who are already here aren’t left homeless, and to provide additional support to student mental health services as this has been incredibly stressful and detrimental to the resident student community.”

“I also urge the State Government to intervene and provide more resources to emergency housing, and work to provide more affordable housing in central locations to actually start doing something about the housing crisis.”

Premier Will Hodgman described the issue as “not an ideal situation” and says planning authorities, such as the Hobart City Council, should take note.

EARLIER: A single mum-to-be who just completed her first year of study is among those who have been told to look online for housing as the University of Tasmania blames a tight rental market for its decision to prioritise first-year and regional students over those already in residential accommodation.

On the same day residents received the letter from UTAS directing them to social media and real estate sites, international students were offered the chance to “jump to the head of the accommodation queue” if they immediately accepted the housing offer and paid a deposit on a room.

Holly Ewin says students already living in University of Tasmania accommodation should be given priority. Picture: Eddie Safarik.

UTAS has since described the wording of that letter as “unfortunate” and claimed the website aimed at future foreign students had been recalled. It was still live late on Tuesday.

Kaitlyn Bailey, who is 15 weeks pregnant and had already been told she would be unable to stay in the university’s residential accommodation once her baby was born, says she is upset she was advised two weeks before Christmas that she had a shorter than expected time frame in which to find housing.

“I was hoping for another six months,” the first-year Bachelor of Social Science student says.

“None of us know if we’re allowed to stay. We’re in limbo.”

Recent data from Shelter Tasmania shows that Hobart is Australia’s least affordable city for renters

Thomas Dwyer, who moved to Hobart from a rural Victorian town to study agricultural business, says he will now give up on study and return to his family’s dairy farm.

“The degree was going to help us get the farm up with the times,” Dwyer says.

“The dairy industry is hard enough as it is. No one wants to be in a country man’s position or support our farmers through these tough times.”

UTAS spokesman Jason Purdie on Tuesday said he was unsure how many people had applied for the university’s 1100 Hobart rooms.

He says the wait list is about 400 people and that in past years about half the people on the wait list were expected to find other arrangements.

Purdie blames the tight Hobart rental market for the issues with student accommodation but notes rooms are only leased for the academic year.

“We are working really vigorously to find new accommodation options,” he says.

“To deal with this in a fair and equitable way, we’ve established sets of criteria by which we’re prioritising accommodation for next year. The first criteria are those people from outside of Hobart … Another criteria is people who have scholarships, which are about supporting people who need support to study. The third is around commencing students.”

Later, he added first-year international students would also receive priority treatment.

This article from The Mercury originally appeared as “University of Tasmania students furious at accommodation offer”.