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Affordable Student Housing Alternatives for International Students
5 min read
Student Housing News

Affordable Student Housing Alternatives for International Students

Affordable Student Housing Alternatives for International StudentsStudent Housing News
Nov 20, 2023
5 min read
Author : amber
Nov 20, 2023
5 min read

As the student housing shortage crisis continued its resilience in 2023, a notable increase was recorded in the demand for affordable student housing alternatives. The global student housing market registered a spurring supply-demand imbalance owing to rising rent growth, low vacancy levels, and energy bills hitting an all-time high.

The average rent in the UK was registered to have increased by 4.4%, in Canada and Australia by 8% and in Europe the rent rose by 3.1%, according to BONARD's report 2022. The 2023 National Student Accommodation Survey in the UK indicated the average monthly energy bill for students as £85, which is £276 more per year compared to the 2022 survey.

Despite the increasing inflation taking its toll on the housing market, the transaction activity in the student housing space has stayed elevated. The recent visa application data shows significant student demand coming from emerging economies in Asia and South America. The student housing performance has increased significantly over the past year in terms of preleasing velocity and rent growth.

With student housing rental prices soaring across the world, and many students living on an increasingly tight budget, international students are turning towards affordable housing options.

Proportion of student housing by accommodation type for selected destinations, 2022

Affordable Housing for International Students

The local real estate market considers affordable housing type an innovation in small living. Affordable student housing alternative includes micro-units, co-living, single-resident occupancy, tiny homes, and accessory dwelling units. These dwelling units have a smaller footprint, which helps to keep construction costs low.

  • Micro units, co-living, or single-resident occupancy (SRO) can often be found connected to or within existing multi-person buildings or a formal shared living space.
  • Accessory dwelling units (ADU) can be either attached or detached from another dwelling.
  • At the same time, tiny homes and tiny homes on wheels (THOW) can be considered detached, independent housing types.

The shift in these young adults’ preferences for student accommodation reflects the idea that downsizing to a tiny home helps reduce one’s environmental impact as it means occupying a much smaller space and consuming fewer resources. However, students who opt for tiny houses may not be doing so for environmental reasons. Instead, they may be trying to cut down on excessive rental prices and financial consumption.

International Students Embracing the Tiny House Movement

Have you watched the 'Tiny House Nation' streaming on Netflix? This show emphasizes the versatility of a zero-waste lifestyle that’s a sustainable and affordable student housing alternative. The tiny house movement is an architectural phenomenon and progressive trend that has grown in popularity these past few years. This downsizing architectural revolution advocates livable dwelling units smaller than 400 square feet.

Ecological Footprints of Tiny Homes

So, if all student accommodation providers worldwide started to embrace the tiny house trend, what would international students receive for their overseas accommodation budget? Definitely, a sustainable and affordable living option!

Tiny Homes and Tiny Homes on Wheels are compact, self-contained dwellings that are often eco-friendly and energy-efficient. Some variants, known as tiny homes on wheels, can be easily transported, offering the freedom to relocate while maintaining the comforts of home. They are typically designed to be highly energy-efficient, with features like solar panels, composting toilets, and rainwater collection systems. This not only reduces the environmental footprint but also lowers utility costs. Moreover, tiny homes come in various designs and layouts, allowing students to choose a space that suits their needs and preferences.

David, a college student from the University of Colorado built a tiny house on wheels, as a way to embrace simple, sustainable living. Even in Florida, Bradley, a college-goer from Jacksonville switched to a minimalist life by moving to a tiny home. Michigan junior Chris traded a dorm room for a 170 square feet tiny house.

The primary motto behind this trend is to live with affordability, but the biggest boon is that these small homes have everything you need to live comfortably. From electricity to plumbing, a custom-made tiny home can be the perfect abode for student life and beyond.

Micro units and Single-Resident occupancy

These  “micro-apartments,” “small efficiency dwelling units,” “micro-housing,” “apodments,” “residential suites,” and “co-living apartments,” all with similar requirements and regulations, are created in urban development areas, mixed-use zones, or along transit routes to create density and affordability for single residents or small families.

Micro units are compact living spaces, generally measuring under 400 square feet. These units are mostly included as part of a multi-unit building where some have their own private bathroom and a kitchenette whereas others are simply private living spaces with shared kitchens and bathrooms. While being strategically located near universities, micro-units come equipped with essential amenities, making them a perfect affordable student housing alternative. The pint-sized abodes are carefully designed to utilize every square inch - foldable furniture, lofted beds, and multifunctional fixtures that can transform your living area into a study space. These compact living spaces with smaller footprints are designed to maximize efficiency while minimizing utility bills, making them an environmentally friendly and cost-effective choice.

Micro Student Housing Concept

While the line between micro units and single-resident occupancy is thin, there are some differences:

Single-resident occupancy (SRO) are units where each person living onsite has a private bedroom attached to a hallway with a shared communal bathroom, kitchen, and living facilities. SRO units are affordable student accommodation alternatives and offer basic amenities without compromising privacy. They provide international students with a sense of independence. They are the most preferred choice due to their accessibility - located in the heart of urban centers, offering students proximity to their universities and vibrant city life.

Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are small, self-contained residential units located on the same property as an existing single-family home. These units take the form of converted garages, basement apartments, or detached structures of a primary residence.  They are often equipped with kitchens and bathrooms, providing a self-contained living experience. ADUs offer students an opportunity to live in a residential neighborhood that fosters a sense of belonging within a local community, which can be a rewarding aspect of the international student experience.

Shipping container homes

Prefabricated shipping containers are a source of cheap housing stock for students who love innovation, sustainability, and thoughtful micro-living. Shipping containers, originally designed for cargo transport, have evolved into versatile building blocks owing to their robust steel construction, availability, and cost-effectiveness. These refurbished units are stacked, painted and outfitted to resemble a building or townhomes, whereas sometimes, they are placed as individual units in clusters to create a sense of community. They mostly have individual kitchenettes or are attached to communal kitchens.


In 2019, the College of Idaho became America's first higher education institution to use shipping containers for large-scale student housing. University of Tasmania’s Sandy Bay campus in Australia housed 180 students in 12m x 3m units from January 2020. These 60 units each comprise bedrooms fitted with a single bed, a television, a small fridge, a cupboard, and an ensuite, with split-system air conditioning. The accommodation facility also includes communal standard rooms and laundry facilities. Whereas in upcoming advancements, Fisk University has planned to construct a new traditional dormitory with 100 units built from prefabricated shipping containers by 2024.

Benefits of affordable housing for international students

  1. Decreased maintenance bills - A tiny house costs the builder somewhere between $20,000 and $60,000 to build, whereas the monthly rent payment ranges between $120 to $460 per month depending on the terms and cost of the house.
  2. Cost-Effective - Affordable student accommodation alternatives are generally more in demand than traditional student housing, helping international students save money for their education.
  3. Unique university experience - These smaller dwelling units promise to give a unique university experience. You might enjoy living in a space that’s far away from housemate bickering and late-night party-goers. Who knows, in the future you could even build your own!
  4. Sustainability - Tiny homes and mobile homes are often more eco-friendly, contributing to a greener living environment.
  5. Home projects can be financed - Builders can refer you to a lender or help you with resources to finance your tiny home project. All you need is a good credit score and a 20% down payment for a loan. Working minimal-wage summer jobs through high school can help you come up with the down payment.

Dorms of the future?

Although affordable student accommodation alternatives are gaining momentum, the concept is relatively new to the government. Though these housings are legal, the building rules and zoning regulations differ from one state to another. In spite of the hurdles, alternative housing solutions still are viable solutions that offer affordability, comfort, and a sense of community. These creative housing models can alleviate the burden of the housing crisis and give much-needed relief to international students. There is no harm in considering them as the ‘dorms of the future’!

Uploaded On
November 22, 2023
last updated on
November 20, 2023

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