The State of Victoria houses over 200,000 international students. Inadequate or unaffordable housing can adversely impact the academic success and personal well-being of these students, making their housing an important issue for both education and urban policy. A robust literature documents the challenges these students face in securing affordable, adequate housing, but only a few studies examine students’ accommodation experiences in nonconventional living arrangements like room sharing and converted rooms.
We conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 19 recently arrived international students in Melbourne. Our interviews covered the housing search process and affordability. We find that students are attracted to unconventional rental arrangements’ lower rents. Students are also pushed into these arrangements by barriers to and dissatisfaction with formal rental market options like purpose-built student accommodations (PBSAs). Many of these arrangements are then passed on to other students through nationality-specific social networking groups with only minimal involvement of formal rental market actors. Students choosing to live in modified accommodation generally expressed satisfaction with their living environments, comparing the amenities and prices of their housing favourably against PBSAs. Our findings suggest that market-led PBSA developments will not help resolve international student housing issues unless the market can deliver more affordable PBSAs.