‘Hot-bedding’: Students in Australia share beds as rents continue to rise
With rents in Australia on the rise, more international students are taking an extreme measure to cut costs – sharing beds with strangers.
Called “hot-bedding”, it is similar to hot-desking. But instead of sharing desks, it involves sharing a bed with a stranger, so that you sleep in shifts.
Priyanka, a 19-year-old student from India, told SBS News Australia she rents a room on the outskirts of Melbourne for A$550 (S$490) a month.
She said she splits the rent by sharing a bed with a lorry driver, who is also from India. She sleeps in the bed while he works at night, and he uses it during the day while she is at school.
But on nights the driver does not work, she camps out in a “storeroom” that can squeeze in a mattress, she told the Australian news network.
Priyanka, who goes by one name, says she struggles to afford her necessities, and that she has not told her family about her situation.
“To not have even a peaceful place to sleep and relax while I study feels terrible,” she told SBS News.
Australia’s cost of living rose 5.6 per cent in the 12 months to May 2023, according to a report by SBS News which cited data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Rents have increased by 6.3 per cent nationally over the past year.
In Melbourne, for example, the median weekly rent for a two-bedroom, 85 sq m apartment is about A$425. In Sydney, a similar place will cost around A$578.
A 2021 survey from the University of Technology Sydney polled 7,000 international students living in Sydney and Melbourne. Three per cent of those surveyed reported hot-bedding to save on rent. About 40 per cent of the respondents also reported skipping meals to cut costs.
If the survey is representative of the more than 700,000 international students in Australia in December 2019, it would equate to about 22,750 students hot-bedding, the university said in its report.
There are now fears that these numbers could climb further.
Before the pandemic, student visa holders could work up to 40 hours a fortnight. But in January 2022, that cap was removed to allow them to fill vacancies that opened up during the pandemic.
The government reintroduced a higher cap from last Saturday, which allows students to work for 48 hours a fortnight instead of the previous 40.
But with the imminent arrival of more international students for the July/August semester, there are concerns the situation would be further exacerbated, pushing rents up higher.
According to news.com.au, an international student earning an hourly minimum wage of A$21.38 could earn up to A$1,026.24 per fortnight, based on the 48-hour cap, or A$513.12 a week.
With the median rental price in the capital cities sitting at A$500 a week, that would leave the student with around A$13 for his own expenses each week, the news website said.
But the Australian government believes it has found the right balance with the increased cap for the number of hours students can work.
Home Affairs Minister Claire O’Neil said visa holders in Australia are “either here as students or they are here as workers”.
“They have come here on a student visa, and they are meant to be getting a good quality education here in our country, and they are not going to be able to do that if they are working full time.
“That’s why the rule has existed before,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“I do not think too many Australians are going to love the idea of people coming here as international students and effectively using that as a pathway to becoming a full-time worker in our country,” she continued, adding that it was “not an appropriate use of a student visa”.
Hot-bedding could be spreading elsewhere, too.
In June 2023, a Canadian landlord in the Greater Toronto Area posted an advertisement for a room that would cost around C$500 (S$510) a month. The tenant would have to share a king-sized bed with a stranger, it said.
The listing is no longer available, reports say, although there is no indication if anyone agreed to the terms of the offer.