Surprising Student Housing Amenities That Work
We’ve all heard about the crazy top-of-the-line student housing projects that are spoiling future apartment renters forever with a boatload of amenities. (Remember when college students were fine with bunk beds?) But are developers swinging the other way? Panelists at yesterday’s Bisnow Texas Student Housing Summit presented a more sedate picture of the industry.
175 attendees joined us at the Hyatt Regency Austin. American Campus Communities CIO William Talbot (whose grandfather was a Chicago Bears QB and pro golfer) says there's a financial return to focusing on academic success among your residents. Students want to go to parties, but most realize they don’t want to live at one (and their parents, who are usually footing the bill, certainly don’t want that). He finds that most projects that market themselves as party central get major occupancy dips in year two. (Sort of like a hangover.)
As Asset Plus Cos EVP Stephen Mitchell (here with Providence CRE Services’ Phil Crane) points out, if a kid drops out of college, you lose your resident, whether you’re on campus or off. Five or six years ago, developers didn’t build study rooms into communities, but now they’re one of the most important facilities. Timely, fun fact: Steve was born in Scotland, and says he was a yes vote for its independence.
Southern Methodist University dean of residence life and student housing Dr. Troy Behrens just completed $250M of new development and $150M in renovations and has implemented mandatory on-campus living for freshmen and sophomores. He says staying on campus improves retention by increasing interaction with faculty and providing academic services, like classrooms, in the res halls. He would consider building some projects just off campus for seniors but says he sold his land off by the acre and now is buying it back by the square inch. Troy’s quite the traveler—he’s been to all 50 states at least twice, and to 17 countries.
Texas State University director of housing and residential life Dr. Rosanne Proite (pictured with Art + Artisan’s Jennifer Seay and Marjorie Flanagan) is breaking ground on a residential project and has 12,000 more beds planned by 2020. She says providing academic support facilities is a priority. Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive space, so she now looks at putting res halls near other services buildings like the library. In addition, more students may be unable to afford the sweet life—there’s been a significant swing in how financial aid is packaged, there have been fewer grants and scholarships, and universities are becoming more diversified, including more often pulling students from lower socioeconomic levels.
If we asked students what matters to them, all other amenities would pale in comparison to great Internet. Campus Advantage VP Jonathan Bove says residents now consider it a utility rather than an amenity. William (whose Callaway House at UT was the first project nationwide to offer one gig per bed) is debating no longer providing cable TV because students watch everything online. He says bandwidth management is extremely important, because no matter how big it is, there will be someone who can use it all. William says he’ll spend $1M at the front end to make sure it’s managed well.
We snapped our sponsor Cadence McShane’s Srinath Kasturi, Alexis Stecker, Mark Alvidrez, Surbhi Jain, and Kevin Cummings. Srinath tells us the firm is working with operators and developers on several student housing properties in Texas, Oklahoma, and Southeastern states. Additionally, it's also building a 350-unit multifamily project on Riverside in Austin for Presidium and is working on lab and research facilities in Cedar Park for two end users in the automotive industry, Dana Corporation and Voltabox.
We've got more coverage in our next pub, including a look at the future of PPPs. Stay tuned!