A major national plan to renovate 263 buildings and turn them into affordable student housing has been unveiled by the government.
It is a move that aims to provide accommodation solutions to thousands of students who each year struggle to find affordable housing when attending university away from home.
The plan – entitled Plano Nacional para o Alojamento no Ensino Superior (PNAES, or National Plan for Higher Education Housing) – spans 42 municipalities and aims to create 11,500 beds for university students throughout the next four years and a total of 30,000 in 10 years.
According to Secretary of State for Higher Education, João Sobrinho Teixeira, in inland boroughs students will be able to find accommodation for around €120 a month for a room, while in Lisbon and Porto the monthly rent will be more expensive at around €220. However, this is still “hundreds of euros cheaper” than some of the prices currently being charged by landlords.
One of the buildings to be converted into a student halls of residence is the Ministry of Education’s historic building on Lisbon’s Avenida 5 de Outubro, where the PNAES plan was unveiled on Monday, April 22.
The event was attended by Prime Minister António Costa and other government officials, who criticised years of “poor housing policies” which affected many Portuguese families.
“A dysfunctional rental market offering no alternatives and easy access to credit pushed families into buying houses and indebting themselves,” said the Minister for Infrastructures and Housing, Pedro Nuno Santos.
He admitted that the “hardship” university students face to find accommodation is “not just a failure of the market but a failure of the State, too”.
The minister stressed that, at present, there are only enough beds for 13% of university students who have to study away from home. The percentages are even lower when taking only Porto (11%) and Lisbon (7%) into account.
“Is it fair for a middle-class student who has achieved high enough grades to enter one of the country’s best universities to be refused this opportunity because his or her parents are unable to pay for accommodation?” the minister asked.
As Lisbon Mayor Fernando Medina pointed out, “renting a room is simply not an option for most middle-class families”. And if the right to academic education is denied because students cannot afford to pay for a room, then the country is jeopardising their future, he recognises.
Residences could become tourist units
In a bid to make these properties “as economically viable as possible”, student rooms may be used in the summer as holiday accommodation for youngsters, Secretary of State for Higher Education, João Sobrinho Teixeira, announced.
Small businesses, like stores and cafeterias, will also be able to open inside the residences.
But will any tourist be able to rent a room at these halls of residence during the summer? Teixeira says this decision will be the responsibility of the entities managing the residences, which will likely be universities themselves.
“It is expected that rooms will primarily be rented to youngsters attending summer courses or travelling to Lisbon to improve their culture,” he said.