University of Sydney sells off $70 million in property, rents spike

Despite a shortage of student accommodation at the University of Sydney, USyd's property sales continue.

In 2021, the University of Sydney sold off over $70 million of property. The properties sold were a mix of student housing and office space.

The majority of the University’s revenue was generated from the sale of an office building at 431 Glebe Point Road for $39 million. The property was purchased by USyd in 2005 for $14.8 million. Prior to the sale, the building was leased to The Woolcock Institute of Medical research by the University. The unnamed buyers of the building are continuing with the lease on the existing terms.  

The other sales pertain to the former Chapman Steps Terraces  in Forest Lodge located metres from the Footbridge. Among these properties, the University sold three- and four-bedroom terraces at 10,12,16,18 and 20 Arundel Street as well as at 22,24,26 and 26a Parramatta Road. The sale prices ranged from $1.7 million to $2.2 million. These houses offered some of USyd’s most affordable rooms from $225 per week in 2020. 

Larger sales of student housing included a seven-bedroom house at 24 Arundel Street and Selle House – a seven-bedroom apartment strata – adjacent to the Parramatta Road terraces. The former sold for $4 million while the latter attracted a $7 million price tag.

A University of Sydney spokesperson told Honi that the properties were sold “in order to take advantage of Sydney’s current strong real estate market” and that the properties “are surplus to the University’s needs and therefore suitable for sale”. They stressed that “any revenue made from sales… is reinvested to support our core teaching and research objectives”. The University of Sydney employed almost 400 fewer academic and professional staff in 2021 than the previous year.

This justification rested on the claim that a number of the properties “were already vacant as they required substantial refurbishment or substantial renovation”. However, a number of these properties are now owned by owner-occupiers. Despite the sales having occurred in August and September last year, there have been no development applications lodged with the City of Sydney.

Selle House, which was used as student accommodation as recently as 2021, has already been leased, according to the building’s current managers. Studios in the building were rented by the University for $305 per week in 2021; studios are now rented for $350 a week on the private market. The weekly rents of one-bedroom apartments in the building have increased by $60 a week since the sale.

The spokesperson told Honi that the University of Sydney “remains committed to providing high-quality and affordable accommodation for our students and lowered rents”. They pointed to the new Regiment building and the University’s plans to make 204 additional beds available at the University’s Darlington terraces.

The sales come amidst an acute shortage of affordable housing near to the University of Sydney. Research conducted by Location IQ shows that there was unmet demand for more than 6700 student housing beds, a number which has remained static since 2015. The University’s current plans to increase its supply of housing aims to meet three percent of that demand.

 According to the University, the shortage has led to students being “deprived of the campus experience” and competition with low-income local residents which has led to students instead occupying “unsafe accommodation” and damage to communities surrounding the University. 

In a statement provided to Honi, SRC Welfare Officer Grace Wallman echoed the harm that a lack of affordable housing does to marginalised students, including housing insecurity and exclusion from university life. Wallman told Honi that the SRC Welfare Officers “strongly condemn” the University’s student housing sell off. Wallman stated that the University “abdicated” their responsibility to ensure all students have a safe place to live in selling off the properties. Wallman pointed to other examples of the University’s failure to provide safe and affordable housing, including the residential colleges which were “expensive, exclusive and unsafe for women” and other University accommodation where residents have highlighted poor living conditions

Wallman was particularly critical of the University’s “dishonesty” in justifying the sales on the buildings being uninhabitable by students, pointing to the fact that the “buildings continue to be rented out, at an increased rate, even though they have not been redeveloped”. Citing the University’s $1.04 billion surplus in 2021, Wallman said that the University had sufficient funds to renovate the buildings, if they were not fit for habitation. 

The sale of the Forest Lodge properties “reflects the larger, concerning trend of the University’s increasing corporatisation” according to Wallman.