Housing vacancies cause concern

Emma Dejong

Emma Dejong

Finding a place to live is not a simple task. For students it is a long process of comparing numerous options. However, for those trying to rent out the properties, the competition is fierce.

Currently, Brookings is overbuilt. Community Development Director Mike Struck estimated that there are a little more than 4,000 rental units, and he said he has heard that between 6 and 8 percent of them are vacant.

“Supply is greater than the demand right now,” he said. “There’s been a pretty significant amount of construction in a small period of time.”

There are many causes for the community’s current vacancies, one of which can be attributed to a change in the eligibility requirements in section eight of a 1974 Housing Act. This act authorized subsidized housing for people with a low to moderate income level. As of June 2007, among many other requirements, any person with any dependence on his or her parents is ineligible for the subsidized housing.

“That’s part of the (vacancy) issue,” Struck said. “Students didn’t have much of an income, but their parents were still claiming them, so they were not eligible to live in these subsidized houses.”

In 2007 Community Partners Research, Inc. conducted a housing study, finding that from 2007 to 2009, 22 apartment buildings were constructed, adding 356 units. In addition, there were 31 townhouses and 16 duplexes built, which added another 97 units.

“(The study) showed a demand of about 100 new rental units a year,” John Mills, president of Mills Development Corporation, said. “Since that time, there have been 500.”

Mills added that his company has vacancies in every property.

“For our newest one, we’re running on a 15 percent,” he said.

With the increased number of vacancies, rental property companies are looking into new ways of attracting tenants.

“Everyone’s being creative?whether it’s offering a free month of rent or a free gym membership,” Struck said.

SDSU’s future plans are also having an effect on the community.

In the spring of 2009 the university approached two consultants about possible expansion in the northwest quadrant of campus. Among other new facilities, the plan includes apartment complexes that would add 300 beds.

The reason for this expansion is because administrators want to provide a wider variety of living options to upperclassmen.

Of the 12,376 students enrolled, between 3,200 and 3,300 live on campus, a high majority of them being freshmen and sophomores.

“It’s good to have students out in the community, and it’s also important to give upper-students the opportunity to live on campus,” Doug Wermedal, assistant vice president of student affairs, said. “They don’t really have that right now.”

This potential expansion is just being discussed right now, but it is causing great concerns for people in the Brookings community. Mills said they “would be in direct competition.”

“We couldn’t be more pro SDSU,” Mills said. “We recognize that it’s a vital part of our community, even a vital part of our success. But we have real concern when this would go head-to-head with what we do to make a living.”

On Dec. 16, Mills and Jim Flippin, vice president of Mills Development Corporation, wrote a letter to the Board of Regents and some administrators asking them to not allow the planning to move any further.

“We reacted right away out of an act of concern,” Mills said. “We felt like we didn’t have any choice but to try and stop it.”

However, Wes Tschetter and Wermedal both said that adding housing options on campus is not going to significantly affect the vacancy rates in the community.

“Three hundred beds isn’t very many,” Tschetter said. “We grew by 300 students last year.”

They both also said ideas are only being considered at this point.

“We’re still trying to figure out the process,” Tschetter, assistant vice president of finance and business, said. “We’ve got a lot of people to talk to, and this thing is going to take a lot of discussion and work.”

One reason the northwest plan has Mills worried is that to a degree, the university has control over where students live. He mentioned the freshmen and sophomore policy as an example.

“By doing that, they don’t play necessarily by the same rules as the market place,” Mills said.

A concern for local developers, along with the added competition, is that they feel the university is not fully considering how this plan will affect the community.

However, President David Chicoine said that “if anybody pursues it, (they) need to have a heavily waged community involvement.”

Still, many companies in the community consider the idea of more apartment complexes on campus to be a threat.

“(It has) put a halt to new construction,” Struck said. “Developers have put all their plans on hold.”

Mills said that one of SDSU’s biggest advantages is that “they have a location that nobody else can compete with.”

Wermedal agreed, saying location is a major factor for many students.

“The wild card on all of it is proximity to campus,” he said.

Location is just one of the many factors students need to consider when looking for a place to live.

“On campus rates include all utilities. Then to be fair, you also have to factor in the cost of parking on campus,” Wermedal said. “Honestly, it gets down to things like cleaning supplies and the cost of toilet paper. Those things are provided on campus, and people forget to factor them when moving off campus.”

Wermedal added that ultimately, one student’s needs may be completely different than another’s.

“What a student wants to look for is as individualized as what you want for lunch,” he said. “If I had to pick one way to help students make a good choice, I think my recommendation would be very simple: Talk to other students.”