COVID-19: shortage of beds in youth hostels, rent for private accommodation should increase

India has only one bed available for six students, according to CBRE – a global commercial real estate and investment services company. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to make this ratio more biased.

While the number of student enrollment was recorded at 36.64 million in 2017-2018 and continues to increase, the number of beds offered by universities is just over 6.5 million d hostel, according to the CBRE report. Maintaining social distancing or reducing the number of beds would not only mean on-campus housing for fewer students, but would also raise concerns about maintaining affordability, which is a key factor for most hostel dwellers.

Most institutes including central universities, IITs and private colleges are not yet allowing all regular students to return to hostels. Only doctoral students and those enrolled in professional courses are allowed to be back in the hostels while the others will follow gradually. This would mean that freshmen will have to attend their colleges online first.

Some institutes are installing new hostel buildings on their campuses while many others are considering collaborating with third-party accommodation providers. StanzaLiving, one of India’s leading student accommodation providers, claims to have seen six times the number of monthly queries and pre-bookings. The accommodation provider says the crisis has accelerated conversations with educational institutions and increased collaboration for on-campus facility management and off-campus capacity support.

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However, campuses collaborating with hosts are not new. Last year, IIT-Delhi had partnered with OYO life to provide living space for students off campus due to shortage of hostels. Such collaborations should multiply this year.

Third-party collaborators, however, face a loss of revenue. Students and government job aspirants had left their co-housing facilities, including PGs, hostels, etc. in March, and few should return for 6-9 months. Harish Nair, Executive Director and Head of Counseling, India, CBRE South Asia, said, “Many students will not consider returning to colleges for security reasons. We can expect normalcy to return in the next 6-9 months or so. But when that happens, the triple rooms will be moved to two or even single rooms. With the reduction in the number of beds within each establishment, not all common areas will open. Among the facilities that will reopen are staggered entry, crowd management, disinfection, and more. will incur additional costs.

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“The reduction in the number of beds will also reduce income. It could drive up rents for high-end properties, but there’s a huge population that doesn’t want or can’t spend that much on housing, so it can’t be raised that much. Operators will have to expand to sustain. Gradually, it can also be expected that the unorganized student sector in the coaching industries will gravitate towards the formal cohabitation sector,” he added.

Students joining accommodation are also prepared for change, experts say. Anindya Dutta, MD, and co-founder, Stanza Living said the pandemic has also changed consumer behavior. “Due to the pandemic, with consumers prioritizing safety and hygiene, there is pressure on all operators of rental housing and campus facilities to ensure that their solutions and services of accommodation maintain the highest hygiene and sanitation protocols. There has been a significant shift in consumer preference towards branded and professionally managed accommodation options,” he said.

He said that apart from health, self-sufficient and uninterrupted daily life ecosystems will also be a key indicator for students choosing living spaces. “The pandemic has created distrust in depending on support from third-party vendors such as maids, cooks, delivery people, etc.,” he said.

Linda G. Ibarra