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Student Housing Has Been Business As Usual In Surprising Ways

Student housing providers were apprehensive about leasing in the coronavirus era as the new school year loomed, but have so far avoided the worst, especially with many off-campus properties.

“Leasing has gone really well, we’re actually ahead on a year-over-year basis,” CA Ventures Executive Vice President Sean Zasche said during Bisnow’s Chicago Deep Dish: Student Housing – An Unprecedented Semester & Its Lasting Impact webinar last week.

The company, which has about 22,000 units across the U.S., has also had success collecting the rent for its student housing properties. It collected around 97% to 98% of the rent since the advent of the pandemic in March, Zasche added.  

“For the most part, it’s been business as usual, which many people are surprised to hear,” he said.

Automatic Lofts at University of Illinois-Chicago

“We’ve had a similar experience, leasing appears to be strong, especially off-campus,” Greystar Senior Vice President of University Partnerships Jared Everett said. “It’s clear students still want that experience, and want to be around their peers.”

That strong leasing performance was also seen in on-campus housing, Everett added, even though many universities have decided to cancel in-classroom learning in favor of remote learning. Many schools are de-densifying on-campus student housing, sometimes by keeping dorms rooms single, rather than the typical practice of doubling students up. That may be displacing more students into off-campus housing than in normal years.

“Ultimately, all things considered, we’re very pleased with where we’re at.”

It has not, of course, been a normal year with normal procedures. Even though recent move-ins have mostly gone well, Everett said his firm has had to extend move-in periods so students and their families can arrive at intervals and avoid crowding each other. Greystar also put in place systems that allow students to make reservations for when they can move.

“We’re pleasantly surprised that they are honoring their reservations,” he said.    

The company also provides personal protective gear such as masks if students don’t have it, and some campuses require student movers to have a negative COVID test, as well as restrictions on how many family members can help.

“It’s different from years past, it’s much more managed,” he said.

“It’s probably been the most organized move-in process ever in the student housing industry,” Zasche said.  

He added that, like Zoom calls and working from home, these structured move-ins could become a permanent feature of people's lives.

Clockwise from top left: Greystar Senior Vice President of University Partnerships Jared Everett; Xfinity Communities Senior Director David Lizak; The Scion Group Director Chelsea Metivier; CA Ventures Executive Vice President Sean Zasche.

“I think the families enjoyed it more as well. It’s something that I think is going to stick in this sector long-term. It’s a better first-day experience for everybody.”

“In our transitions, we’ve done the same things,” The Scion Group Director Chelsea Metivier said.

When putting in place highly structured move-ins, student housing providers need to ensure parents and students understand the schedules.

“We’ve always been very communicative with our residents, but that’s been an even more important aspect of this in making sure both parents and residents are well aware of our policies and processes,” Metivier said. “As we survey residents about that experience, it’s been overwhelmingly positive, so I think that bodes well for the future.”

Providers have also implemented more stringent cleaning procedures, including perhaps twice a day for cleaning periods of about 30 to 40 minutes, among other steps, Zasche said. He foresees keeping up with such activities even after life returns more or less to normal.

“It adds a little bit of cost, but it’s not a material change to the operating costs of a property,” he said.

Other activities considered normal are going forward as well, except with a few minor adjustments, Metivier said. Her firm continues to hold social events for students but makes sure social distancing can be practiced, and it usually limits participation to fewer than 10 residents.

“It’s still important for our residents to get to know each other, and create a community, that’s key, and we want to maintain that as much as possible recognizing that the campus experience is going to look different.”