The demand for student accommodation has increased significantly and it is well known that students are struggling to find any space - suitable or not - to lay their heads.
Amidst stories of students sleeping on the floor in crowded, dirty and just generally unsuitable spaces, the media has published many photographs showing some of the sub-standard off-campus accommodation that many students have had to accept.
Unfortunately there is currently little legislation in South Africa relating to the student housing. Although many universities do prescribe to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) accreditation - a legal minimum standard required for student accommodation which may then be funded by NSFAS student loans. These are geared primarily to large private student accommodation buildings.
Lack of quality housing
As smaller, private providers of accommodation do not qualify under the NSFAS, students are unable to get NSFAS funding, and with a lack of qualifying quality housing, a no-win situation is created which may force students to accept any accommodation they can find, even if sub-standard, because it might be all they can afford.
"The private sector can potentially be a significant contributor to providing housing to university students which would go a long way to alleviating this mounting problem," says Liezl Hesketh, founder of TheRoomLink.co.za, an online portal dedicated to matching students and young professionals with suitable housing.
Hesketh believes there is a surplus of rooms to rent in the private sector that are ideal for students, but she says that often home and property owners do not realise the space they have can be put to good use by renting to a student. She believes that additional encouragement, such as tax incentives or qualifying under NSFAS for those who do rent to students, are necessary.
Additional incentives for landlords renting to students
Renting out a room or property to a student makes sense, but other than the obvious additional income a rental may provide, additional incentives should be made available to those landlords who focus specifically on renting to students.
"We call on the NSFAS to provide a separate rating system for individuals renting out rooms in, or outside, their homes to students, and for the first portion of that rental income, for example R20,000, to be exempt from tax, to encourage more property owners to rent to students," says Hesketh.
Not only would this help to alleviate the housing shortage but also lays a pathway of success for the student throughout their tertiary education.
"Of course there is a relationship between academic success and housing. Housing, along with adequate food and clean water, is an absolute basic human requirement. Without these basics we set our students up for failure. Many of these students have already overcome huge obstacles to get where they are, now imagine a situation - a young student living in squalor, possibly having lost their money in a scam and how they have now started so far behind. Compare that to a student who has secured a room in a home, perhaps in the private sector: adequate shelter, light, meals wither catered for, or at least a clean place to store food and cook warm meals, and a desk form which to study. It is obvious which student has a better chance of success," says Hesketh.
Government to get involved
"We implore the government to engage with the private sector more and to further encourage public participation. In light of the findings it makes sense to strengthen public-private partnerships and to incentivise the renting within the private sector."
According to the Report on the Ministerial Committee for the Review of Student Housing at South African Universities, 195,185 beds were required nationally in 2010, and that number has continued to increase dramatically over the last few years.
The Department of Higher Education and Training has stated that it will set minimum norms for both on and off campus work in a partnership.
TheRoomLink.co.za is a unique site in that it urges members to list a wide variety of interests, likes dislikes. Members can also specify time frame, renting by the week, month or even a few days of the week.
"This type of open communication takes a bit of leg work l but encouraged from our side to ensure that both sides know what they are in for," says Hesketh, who believes that the more effort members put into the profile, the better their experience.
Hesketh believes that a place to lodge complaints regarding poor housing is imperative, as she has heard many horror stories from students who have been scammed, or worse, in their search for accommodation.
TheRoomLink.co.za provides a variety of support, including tips for keeping safe, signing a lease, and even how landlords can take the best photos of the rooms they wish to rent.