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30th Aug 2022

Architect Africa Online

Africa's Leading Architecture Aggregator

The future design of student accommodation

With universities operational again, student housing and short-term apartment lets are in the spotlight. How will Covid-19 and possible future pandemics affect new building design going forward? 


SA ’s university students are back on campus under strict Covid-19 protocols, which are part of the department of higher education’s plan to save the 2020 academic year. Students living in university accommodation have to adhere to strict safety measures and practise social distancing to ensure they do not contract the Covid-19 virus on campus. This may be a good short-term solution but relooking the design of student accommodation is crucial right now. “Well-designed accommodation could be key to managing the spread of Covid-19 among SA’s student population,” says Sean Kenealy, an architect, urban designer and director of the student accommodation group Stag African.

The company has pioneered an innovative green alternative to student accommodation and is currently developing a 2,047-bed student village at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, the largest student accommodation development by a public university in the country. Student housing in SA usually accommodates as many people as possible in a dense hostel-type setup.  “A single Covid-19 infection under such conditions could yield an uncontrolled outbreak within weeks, if not days,” says Kenealy. “We need to implement ways of limiting social interaction without losing the vitally important aspect of community.”


Stag African has patented a pod design that recreates a home environment and houses eight students per pod. It consists of double or single bedrooms and a common kitchen and living area. Unlike older institutional-type student housing designs that include long passages with cubicles on both sides, often with hundreds of students per floor, such a pod limits personal interaction to only eight people. Being part of a community is important in terms of students’ success, Kenealy says. “More than 60% of learning at tertiary level occurs outside a lecture hall within the communities students create on campus – this is known as the hidden context of learning. Communal spaces are where mentorship and tutorship happen. Alternative education is as important as formal education.”

A shortage of student housing is not a new problem in SA and Kenealy says this is partly due to a lack of innovation. He thinks the current pandemic and possible future pandemics could send student housing design into a new direction. “We have an opportunity now to pause and redefine the meaning of quality on-campus accommodation; this should take into account community, sustainability and affordability,” he says.

The shape of things to come

Location, location 

Home to the second-oldest university in the country, Stellenbosch has a campus offering world-class academic and sport facilities. However, apart from its lively student community, the town is also a popular tourist and business travel destination with many historic wine farms and quaint villages on its outskirts. Student accommodation and short-term rental options in the area are sought after and usually in short supply. With strict municipal policies in place, long lead times on development approvals are common. Flyt Property Investment’s newly launched Quivertree apartment block offers fully furnished and serviced studio and two-bedroom units. The development has shown strong rental growth over the past two years, with a good track record and market presence.  Quivertree forms part of a formal rental pool managed by an on-site team. Benefits of the system include furnished apartments at no additional cost, quality tenants who fulfil all criteria, a lower financial risk, higher returns thanks to a dedicated on-site managed solution, and no administration hassle. Because it qualifies for Sars’ Section 12J tax break incentive, investment in Quivertree offers a considerable bonus – a 100% tax deduction plus a rental yield guarantee for the first two years of 6.5% after all costs (including rates and levies) are deducted.

Added Safety 

The Worx is a new mixed-use development in Dennesig, an area earmarked as the next de facto student hub in this university town, says Pam Golding Properties sectional title agent Vanessa Johnson. It comprises 50 contemporary apartments with top finishes and views, priced from R1.45m. Municipal urban design guidelines here include pedestrian access and the use of nonmotorised transport, as well as a shuttle service to town. The university’s green route, which allows students to walk to campus with additional lighting and access to security, will also be extended to this area. “These mixed-use developments will continue to be an attractive investment opportunity, even in times of economic uncertainty,” says Louise Varga, Pam Golding Properties manager of developments for the Boland and Overberg.

6 on Nansen, a student housing development in Observatory, Cape Town
6 on Nansen, a student housing development in Observatory, Cape Town

“We have an opportunity now to pause and redefine the meaning of quality on-campus accommodation; this should take into account community, sustainability and affordability” Sean Kenealy, director, Stag African

Generation gap 

With Generation Z now dominating student life in SA and globally with a different set of needs, expectations and aspirations, it’s no surprise that this group is shaping the built environment.  A case in point is 6 on Nansen, a new Cape Town housing development for students and young professionals founded by British-born South African YouTuber and entrepreneur Caspar Lee (25) and Cape Town-based entrepreneur Benji Schaffer (23). Their vision for their company, Proper Living, is to create a contemporary model for 21st-century living aimed at the sophisticated youth market in the R6,000 to R11,000 monthly rental bracket. Offering accommodation packages and state-of-the-art security in Observatory, close to the University of Cape Town, this 98-unit project is currently under development and set to launch in December. The development consists of studio, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments with shared communal spaces suitable for young professionals and students. Safety is a key selling point, with 24/7 guarding and rapid response, state-of-the-art surveillance and biometric fingerprint scanning. On top of that, the Swift holistic digital app platform has been designed to further facilitate safety and connect residents, management and service providers.



HomeFront quizzed Darryn van der Poel, investment consultant at Flyt Property Investment, about Section 12J funds: 

What exactly is Section 12J of the Income Tax Act?

It’s a Sars initiative introduced by the government to incentivise and stimulate investment in businesses that create jobs and grow the economy.

How does it benefit the investor?

By investing in a registered Section 12J entity, investors are able to reduce their taxable income by the full value (100%) of their investment, reducing their tax liability to Sars.  This means Sars will finance up to 45% of the investment, depending on the investor’s marginal tax rate. Anyone is eligible: individuals, trusts and companies.

How does it work?

Investments made via a Section 12J fund are put into qualifying companies that are compliant with the rules of Section 12J.  Hospitality properties and student accommodation tick the boxes, provided they meet certain qualifying criteria. As Quivertree is a fully managed solution of short-term, serviced and furnished accommodation and has an on-site meal offering, it qualifies as a Section 12J compliant investment. The minimum investment into this development via Flyt’s Section 12J fund is R1m and needs to be held for a minimum of five years. Investors can invest their own cash or opt for one of Flyt’s innovative financed products. This means you are able to invest your tax into quality hospitality property without putting down any of your own money.

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