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Editorial: Too much 'luxury' student housing hurts everyone

Feb. 1, 2013

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Maneater editorial board.

Columbia, Missouri is a college town. It was founded with education in mind — particularly the kind of education that attracts all kinds of Missourians. For the last 150 years, three institutions of higher learning — Columbia College, Stephens College and MU — have each made an irreversible impact on our city.

It would seem, then, that City Council would be receptive to the needs and wants of the nearly 40,000 postsecondary students living within city limits. However, the dismal and embarrassing state of student housing in Columbia today gives us the impression that city administrators place profit and expansion above helping provide its residents — all of them — with a good quality place to live.

This fall, three new “luxury" student housing complexes will open in Columbia: Aspen Heights, The Domain and The Lofts at 308 Ninth. Each has some pretty nifty amenities, including pools, wood floors, and even (in The Domain’s case) a full-swing golf simulator. Because of these features, each charges above-average rent.

These three add to the handfuls of similar “luxury" student housing complexes that have opened over the last decade, mostly in the Grindstone area a few miles south of campus. Most were planned and are operated by national corporations, which often employ questionable construction practices to get them up and occupied before the next “hot property” complex is built.

Students who lease at such places pay higher rents for granite countertops, rooftop pools and in-house tanning salons; however, shoddy construction is often part of the deal. More students living far off-campus can add to the growing sense of detachment and “commuter-ism” at our university — driving to class and back each day and not spending as much time contributing to our campus’ social activity.

Meanwhile, the valuable land around campus, particularly to the north and east, has many problems in relation to student housing. Much of it is too expensive for most students. If it is affordable, it’s in extremely high demand or unavailable to students due to reticent landlords. If it is affordable and available, it often lacks modern amenities or has fallen into disrepair — East Campus, the traditional heart of off-campus student housing, is crumbling.

Simply put, the problem is not a shortage of student housing. It’s a shortage of the affordable, no-frills housing close to campus that students want.

Part of the problem is the massive marketing budgets of the “luxury" student housing companies. We see all sorts of swag — hats, shirts, backpacks, water bottles emblazoned with the logos of these developments — being given out and carried around campus. If it weren't for word of mouth, it seems many freshmen would have no idea that there's off-campus housing available to them other than Aspen Heights, The Domain and the like.

But much of the blame for Columbia’s student-housing mess falls on city officials’ willingness to rubber stamp nearly every new complex that gets proposed, regardless of whether it’s smart growth that fills a demonstrated need, or even if it hurts longtime Columbia residents. Last year, a low-income mobile home park housing many of the city’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents was razed to make way for Aspen Heights, a national chain housing development. Now, the city is even considering tearing down the oldest and possibly the most historic building in Columbia — the Niedermeyer house at Tenth and Cherry — to make way for more of this "luxury" student housing.

To be fair, these new developments are enticing to students. They provide comfort and security to parents. There is nothing wrong with “luxury" student housing in itself. But the problem comes when there is simply too much “luxury” and not enough affordable housing close by. The city benefits from higher rents, too, but seems to miss, or ignore, the disservice that is being done to students and Columbians alike by encouraging a "red-hot" luxury apartment market too quickly and without a solid backbone. City Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission need to regulate rent prices, help restore East Campus and other housing close to campus and need to learn how to say no to development companies.

There isn’t much organized opposition to this pattern on campus, either. After losing its battle to stop Aspen Heights' development, the Missouri Students Association has stopped pursuing this issue of affordable and accessible student housing. As MU students’ primary representatives, MSA members should re-establish the special commission they created to advocate smarter housing. And students should educate themselves to be better tenants and consumers.

We are constantly building in anticipation of an ever-expanding student body. But unlike the Grindstone prairie south of campus, the university is fast approaching its carrying capacity. What will happen when our university stops admitting “record-highest” freshman classes each year? We’ll have a city full of cheaply-built, under-occupied student housing.

The city of Columbia needs to understand this and give more attention to the affordable housing around campus and less to out-of-state corporations who come in and build overvalued "luxury apartments." Columbia is a college town, not a playground for developers. It’s time to step up and make our city better.

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Article comments

Feb. 1, 2013 at 10:03 a.m.

michael walser: Amen to you for speaking the truth. I would like to add something missed here. All of this "luxury" housing also makes it nearly impossible for a non student to find an apartment. Yes, I realize there are other properties away from campus. However, some folks don't need three plus bedrooms. These out of state corporations charging outlandish rent fairly well block an average single working person from getting a small apartment.

Feb. 1, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.

tiger091: YES. THANK YOU. Someone needed to say this.

Feb. 1, 2013 at 9:03 p.m.

MB: Yes, agree with tiger 091. Somebody had to say this. The issue should not be overlooked.

Feb. 4, 2013 at 8:08 p.m.

Jack: SERIOUSLY. get your head out of your butt, como. This is a college town. Think of your damn students first. We don't want to spend what earnings we have on housing. we just want to walk to campus! make cheaper housing. fix east campus. screw the frills. ...and that ninth street complex is an EYESORE - completely ruined the quaintness that was right off campus.

Feb. 4, 2013 at 9:41 p.m.

MizzouTiger1890: Tough. If there's still a demand for high-rent housing (and there certainly is) then it deserves to be built. That's the nature of the economy. I can't expect the city of Columbia to ignore safe and profitable decisions in the name of some "higher cause." As soon as they start putting up SUPERFLUOUS housing, then it becomes a problem. As it is, I don't think it's unreasonable for people to charge high rates for ultimate, high-quality conveniently placed housing. (Like the new Lofts.) That's the supply and demand of economics and asking the city to ignore that is irrational and unreasonable.

Feb. 4, 2013 at 11 p.m.

The Economy: An increase in supply leads to a decrease in price. Luxury apartments like these keep the crappy places from raising their prices.

Feb. 4, 2013 at 11:33 p.m.

DJD: I dunno. Rent control is a really bad idea, economically speaking. Things like that lead to ghettos, as landlords lose the incentive to "keep up the place". Moreover, competition (more of these places opening up) causes prices to drop as owners compete for renters. This author(s?) may have good intentions, but they should think about the unintended consequences of his/her/their proposals.

Feb. 5, 2013 at 12:11 a.m.

poorstudent: Anywhere within a 20 minute walk of campus is either ridiculously expensive, terribly maintained, or both. I agree with this article, the only reason people get away with it is because landlords know that students don't have much leverage or know their rights and everyone does it. I've had places tell me "we only do tours of our model unit" and they know that some sucker student will rent there because it's cheap and close. It's basically accepted that if you can't afford Brookside, you're living far away or somewhere gross where nobody could be bothered to do basic cleaning before you moved in. I don't think rent control is the answer, and I do understand supply and demand. However, I think we need some way to prevent landlords from taking advantage of students by promising to fix issues before move-in and then not fixing them, or by making tenants wait inordinate amounts of time for basic repairs. I understand that they often don't have full-time maintenance staff, but when my stove broke and my management company didn't have staff available, they paid an outside company to fix it so I could cook. The issue with the luxury housing is that landlords and management companies know that by pricing slightly below those prices, they can get away with a lot more because students think their only other close to campus option is luxury housing. If the city council moved towards approving more local, affordable development and created more sanctions for substandard living conditions, then the demand for horribly maintained and barely affordable apartments would go down and the people who own the crumbling and poorly maintained apartments would have to improve-- or at least do things like sweep the floor or pick up the trash or replace the toilet covered with black mold before new tenants move in.

Feb. 5, 2013 at 4:09 p.m.

MizzouStudent : ^ That guy is a pro. Realistically, if you get into more advanced Economics classes (beyond 1014 where it's all "Rent Control is Bad") you begin to understand that the simplistic model of Supply/Demand assumes that both parties have equal negotiation power -- Nobody has, as we should remember from 1014, the power to be a "price maker" The reason why you'll see so many Doctorates in Economics support rent control or minimum wage laws is that in those cases, Supply/Demand can't strictly be relied on in the free market sense -- landlords have a lot more negotiation power to set the prices as they do and poor College students who need a place to live no matter what end up sucking it up and paying more than they want to (because we all need a place to live). The very basic assumptions of Free Market economics (equal negotiation power -- no price makers) aren't always met in the housing market. Besides, the element that's true here, which we all need to take away, is that regardless of profits for the city or the landlords, we as the student body should try to negotiate as one. Whether that's as Editorials from the Maneater or from action by MSA, we all need to watch out for each other and represent what we know is best for the student body. This isn't about "those mean landlords shame on them" -- This is about trying to group together to demand change that we should all recognize as sorely needed. Our negotiation power is weak as individual students to say, "Here's what prices we'd like to pay." But together, we're not weak individual students that get forced into whatever housing situation we can get in the mad clamber for off-campus housing. I like my living arrangements. But we're one team here, everybody. We as a Student Body should do something to watch out for each other. We need to find a way to help improve this situation. Action is sorely needed.

Feb. 7, 2013 at 8:26 p.m.

Problems: As a student, I have looked at the "no frills" apartment complexes. The ones I would most like to rent in have age cutoffs that I do not meet yet, and thus I am forced to choose between luxury housing or somewhere that is genuinely unsafe in terms of the neighborhood or the apartment/structure itself. I would much rather live in an unfurnished apartment without pointless amenities like a theater or a golf simulator. My father is an experienced renter and construction worker, and even he agrees that "luxury" housing is better than poorly maintained housing that could be hazardous to my health.

Aug. 5, 2013 at 9:29 p.m.

Rmiller: As a parent, I wish we would have been more aware of this issue when our son signed a lease w/Aspen Heights. A number of insightful students could say "I told you so!" to us... now that Aspen Heights has over 600 tenants unable to get into their incomplete apts. We are pretty powerless over this well-oiled corporate monster. And by the way, I've rec'd no response from the mayor or council woman for ward 6 regarding even a comment on the Aspen Heights situation.

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