Innovating for Better Student Housing

July 31, 2018

Many colleges and universities across the U.S. are continuing to increase enrollment, but not their stock of student housing. Students have to find housing in the private market, and the market responds – but sometimes those responses put pressures on surrounding neighborhoods and downtown areas. Over the past several years, Clarion Associates has worked with several college towns and cities to balance the need for more student housing with the need to preserve stable neighborhoods and community character.

In Duluth, Minnesota, conversion of single-family homes around the University of Minnesota/Duluth campus had led the City to adopt a limit of three student-rental homes per block – a solution that became very unpopular because it appeared to reward those who had first converted their homes to student rentals. The City repealed its block quotas, and Clarion Associates worked with staff to identify areas near the university boundary where boarding homes would be allowed and drafted new regulations to ensure that new multifamily developments in the area would orient balconies, assembly areas, and parking areas away from the surrounding neighborhoods.

In Columbia, Missouri, developers had recently constructed hundreds of new student-specific apartments in a single street-oriented building in the downtown area.  The community felt that the size and scale of the building was too large for its context and that the presence of so many students in one location threatened to change the feel of downtown Columbia in ways that would make other residents of the City reluctant to go there. We worked with City staff to craft new regulations to reduce the allowable scale of future student-specific multi-family projects in the downtown area.

In the Borough of State College, Pennsylvania, several large, 12-story private student housing projects were recently approved and built in the downtown, close to the entrance to the Penn State campus. We are currently working with the Borough as part of a comprehensive development code update to better align the community’s goals about the location, size, form, and height of private student housing projects in the downtown area and within the residential neighborhoods around the Penn State campus.

In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as part of a comprehensive code update, we are assisting the City to craft a comprehensive regulatory approach to private off-campus student housing that will better align with the community’s development goals. As part of this effort, we will be revising off-campus student housing regulations to address form, scale, and design issues in different contexts:  (1) around the University of Alabama campus, (2) in the downtown area, and (3) other locations where student housing would be consistent with the City’s planning goals.

The need for more student housing is likely to continue – and so will positive economic impacts students bring to the communities where they live – and so will the challenges they pose for the student housing neighborhoods. Clarion Associates is currently working to tailor locally effective and innovative responses to the student housing challenge in these and other communities throughout the U.S.