New Darlington Terraces: More affordable student housing?

Increased rent looms in the distance.

Earlier this month, the University of Sydney and the NSW State Government announced a $40 million refurbishment of Darlington Terraces, owned by USyd. It will entail the construction of four new buildings directly behind Victorian-era housing between 86 and 131 Darlington Road. Once finished, it will be sandwiched between the Business School, Aquatics Centre, Storie Dixson Wing and Darlington House.

The redevelopment will contribute single and double-occupancy rooms for 336 students and visiting academics, adding to the 151 residents already living in Darlington Terraces.

Architectural drawings of the proposal indicate that the new extension will be connected to the Darlington Terraces via a planted outdoor corridor. This aims to preserve heritage features whilst modifying interiors to reflect the entire complex. Each standard 15-bed floor is anticipated to feature 10m2 rooms and three shared bathrooms, while upper floors will host an assortment of twin occupancy lofts and premium ensuite rooms. Finally, akin to arrangements at Regiment, informal study spaces, a communal dining hall/kitchen and a rooftop terrace will form part of the new development’s social offerings.

Figure 1. Cross-section of the proposed Darlington Terraces redevelopment. Source: NSW Government

Following the project’s approval, USyd Vice Chancellor Professor Stephen Garton praised the plan as an improvement on USyd’s affordable housing stock. “The cost of housing in Sydney can be prohibitive… [we want to] provide a range of affordable housing options for the community,” Garton said.

However, given the wide-ranging renovations and upgrades to facilities, the project will likely result in an overall increase in rent. For instance, a small room in the Terraces cost $225 per week, whereas Regiment charges $338 per week. The latter’s more expensive fees are attributed to extra study and social facilities that the Terraces lack.

Drawing from a 2017 submission the University made against the City of Sydney’s proposal of a 12m2 minimum room size, there is a strong possibility that the University will set prices to align with Regiment, the Queen Mary Building, and Sydney University Village. In that submission, the University argued that such requirements would constrain universities from delivering housing at “25% below the private student housing market.”

In response to the announcement, SRC Welfare Officer, Lia Perkins, argued that: “Affordable housing for students would be welcomed, but if the suggested price is similar [to] other programs called ‘affordable housing for students’, it’s not affordable.”   “Why is the university focused on this development rather than lowering fees for offshore students and keeping staff jobs?”

Felix Faber, SRC Student Housing Officer, said: “While more affordable student housing is always welcome, the University’s track record of providing such accommodation is patchy at best.”

“The University hasn’t provided a figure for how much rent at the new accommodation will cost — if current rents are anything to go by, the rent for the new development will well exceed 30% of the typical student’s income.” 

“Further concerns must be addressed around what arrangements will be made for the current residents of the terraces during construction, and the likelihood that such a development would ramp up the already out-of-control gentrification of the area.”

As of the time of writing, it is unclear whether USyd or a third-party organisation such as Campus Living Villages will preside over the new accommodation.