Accommodation shortage could turn into a crisis at SU


Real estate agents in Stellenbosch fear that a crisis awaits students who have enrolled, registered and relied on the use of private lodgings at Stellenbosch University (SU) for the 2024 academic year. These students may soon be on the streets due to a serious shortage of accommodation options.

Estate agents who specialize in letting student accommodation agree that there is a shortage of private accommodation for students.

Hendrik Lemmer of Coetzenburg Eiendomme, who has been renting accommodation for students for several years, believes the shortage can cause major problems.

“This is the first time in many years that we have to turn away many applicants because there is no place to stay. And these are not just a few cases. Dozens of applicants had to be shown the door and we don’t know where they will find a place to stay.”

Linda van Zyl, general manager of MySpace, a company that provides student accommodation, says 90% of their accommodation is taken up by students.

“We offer 1- to 4-bedroom units, most of which are rooms and suites. Wi-Fi is included, as well as power and water. We also offer a free shuttle service, access to the gym, cleaning services once a week, 24-hour security and surveillance cameras. Each room is also furnished. We have 600 beds available in Stellenbosch, all of which are currently filled.” Van Zyl confirmed that this year they received many more applications than before.

“Despite the fact that the prices for our rooms vary between R7 000 and R14 000 per month, we received approximately 2 000 applications, but could only accommodate 600 residents.”

According to a SU spokesperson, the situation regarding student accommodation has changed dramatically in the past two weeks. The places that were open were taken. All the major suppliers that were still open at this time last year are now full, with waiting lists. We are now forced to look for places to stay outside the town.

The Nooitgedacht neighborhood just outside Stellenbosch also has no student accommodation available, although certain parts of it used to house students.

When asked, Lemmer said: “There is definitely an availability crisis across different price ranges, not just for students studying with NSFAS support. Some students have already indicated that they have already started here, but would rather study at Potch and other places from Monday. It’s never been like this in the 25 years I’ve been in the industry and we really don’t know what to do. There is also the issue of affordability and at the rates at which private lodgings are currently rented, few students are prepared for these additional expenses.”

Meanwhile, the SU spokesperson says that they have very strict guidelines for the intake of students and that their enrollment planning is strictly monitored. SU may not take in more students than agreed with the department of higher education, as the department subsidizes those students.

“We can only speculate about the reasons why students this year seem to prefer private lodgings more than before, but it is not because we have registered 5,000 more students than before. In fact, figures indicate that we currently have fewer students registered than in the corresponding period last year.

“SU did not take in 5,000 more students than the previous year. Our target number for 2023 was 5,615 new first-year students and for 2024 it was 5,716 newcomers. To accommodate these numbers, two new residences with approximately 350 beds will be available in the second term.

“Affordability is a real problem and the NSFAS limit of R45 000 for housing has a significant influence on the availability of accommodation in the private sector. Many of our key suppliers have indicated that they will no longer be able to assist NSFAS students.”

Many property owners also now require pre-paid deposits to ensure that students will be able to meet the NSFAS shortfalls. SU students who fall into this category are mostly those without accommodation, looking for below-average accommodation and unable to pay or guarantee the expected shortfalls. Last year SU accredited almost 7,000 private beds and this year 4,560 have already been filled. There is now a place to stay in Eersterivier, Solaris Crest, about 15 km from Stellenbosch, contracted where an additional 130 beds are available. However, parents are concerned about this as it is far from the campus and may also pose certain safety risks.

According to Martin Viljoen, SU spokesperson, accommodation at higher education institutions remains a national challenge. As with most universities, residence places are limited and SU works with private providers to offer accredited accommodation.

“Nearly 75% of all SU students commute or stay in private accommodation. Private accommodation is not administered by SU. However, there is an accommodation office that helps with accredited private accommodation.

“SU supports students in finding suitable accommodation and will continue to engage in discussions with the relevant entities, including the Student Council and NSFAS, regarding long-term solutions for suitable accommodation.

“This year we received approximately 14,000 applications for SU dormitory spaces (first-year students) and can only accommodate approximately 2,000 first-year students in SU residences on the Stellenbosch campus and 280 first-year students on the Tygerberg campus. In total, SU offers almost 8,000 residence beds and almost 5,000 privately accredited beds for 2024,” said Viljoen.