The Darlington Terraces’ future hangs in the balance as Sydney University mulls selling one of its most affordable student accommodation due to years of underinvestment and disrepair.
The University of Sydney is considering selling the historic Darlington Terraces following  revelations that redevelopment costs have spiralled upwards due to neglect, amid an acute student housing crisis in Sydney. 
Confidential documents obtained by Honi via freedom of information laws reveal that the University is floating three options for the Darlington Terraces: sale, redevelopment and renovation. The houses represents some of USyd’s cheapest housing stock, priced at $250 for a small single bedroom in 2022. 
Darlington Terraces Options and Darlington House Maintenance Upgrade, The University of Sydney, June 2023.
According to University Infrastructure, a sale will provide “the greatest financial return” to the University, increase investment in the University’s multi-billion investment funds and remove burdens associated with maintaining the buildings. BresicWhitney, the real estate agency tasked with selling the Arundel and Chapman Steps Terraces in 2021 on USyd’s behalf, estimates that the properties on Darlington Road are worth $78 million. 
The University estimates that a sale will generate a dividend of $3.4 million per year to its long-term fund. 
Another key reason behind the proposal is years of underinvestment in the buildings. According to internal reports, concerns were raised with USyd regarding the deterioration of the Darlington Terraces prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with consultants warning in 2019 of a “general state of neglect”, with “wet rot, rising and falling damp”, “lead paint contamination”, mould and “significant cracking” posing acute health risks for residents.  
Fast forward to 2022, further inspections by the University reveal “worsened” conditions with “mould potentially risking student welfare” leading to UI and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Education’s (DVC-E) Office recommending closure of the residence at the end of last year.  
Due to years of neglect, UI estimates that the original cost estimate for the Terraces’ redevelopment in 2020 of $40 million has blown out to $84 million today. In 2021, an application by the University for a redevelopment of the Darlington Terraces was approved by the New South Wales Government. Under 2021’s blueprint, the number of affordable bedrooms for students will increase from 116 to 336 beds if a full redevelopment goes ahead. 
However, the paper warns the University of “reputational” risks should it sell the houses, citing the cost of living crisis, though the institution pointedly caveats that “no such impact was evident with the sale of the Arundel Terraces”. In addition to this, there are worries surrounding the rise of NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard) should the Terraces be sold to private households and businesses, increasing the risk of objections to future developments in Darlington. 
Darlington Terraces Options and Darlington House Maintenance Upgrade, The University of Sydney, June 2023
The other option being considered is a more modest renovation of the buildings, billed at a combined $19.8 million to restore the existing Terraces and Darlington House to better conditions. However, under this proposal, no new bedrooms will be created compared to before the pandemic, increasing the number of university-owned beds from 1,816 to 2,009.
On the other hand, as the project is the only “shovel-ready” new build available to the University, if the sale goes ahead, the number of university-owned beds on campus will stay the same as it is following USyd’s sale of Arundel, Chapman Steps Terraces, and International House’s closure. 
In response to questions from Honi, a University of Sydney spokesperson said that the university is “still considering our option for the Terraces” and that regardless of whether a sale or redevelopment is chosen, it would not be “for any other use other than accommodation”. 
Meanwhile, University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council (SRC) President Lia Perkins told Honi that the SRC oppose any moves to sell the Darlington Terraces, emphasising the need for USyd to protect its current housing stock. 
“It was a shame when the University sold off its accommodation in Forest Lodge because students need affordable accommodation close to university,” Perkins said. “I don’t believe the University should sell the Darlington Terraces, it should keep all accommodation well below market rate and expand support for students unable to access university accommodation.”
Ella Carmichael is a fourth-year Arts student majoring in Literature and Psychology, and lived in the Darlington Terraces between 2021 and 2022. She is intimately acquainted with the student community at the Terraces, being head Residential Assistant at the residence in 2021 and 2022, including through the winter lockdown in 2021. 
“When I moved in, it wasn’t too bad,” said Carmichael, conditions at the buildings were sound until heavy rain meant that years of haphazard repairs, damp and mould built up to the point where residents had to move out. 
“They weren’t fixing anything fully, they would put band aids over the issues because I think they [the University] knew at that point that the Terraces were eventually going to be closed.”
Responding to the news that a sale of the Darlington Terraces is being considered, Carmichael is concerned that the move will mean that the number of affordable rooms for students will go down and potentially losing a beloved community hub right at the heart of campus. 
“I really liked the concept of the Terraces. I thought it was a really enjoyable format of student accommodation when it was all working smoothly. So I think selling them would be a shame, especially considering the price point of the other accommodation options.” 
Even though she empathises with the plan’s aim to double the number of rooms available on campus, it was vital that Sydney University provides genuinely affordable and secure rooms for students rather than replicating the models at Regiment and Queen Mary Building across all of its housing stock. 
“I think there’s a massive group of students who are no longer being catered for in the absence of the Darlington accommodation. So I think that’s a huge shame.”
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