College Students are an integral part of our community. They come here to learn, to grow and to make something great of themselves. They pay local taxes, support local businesses and become leaders in the community. They’re the reason Sheetz can make a profit at 3am. Many stay in Greenville and contribute to our long-term growth.
I’ll write more at a later date about the importance of students and how we keep talent in Greenville. Today I’m writing about where they live while they’re here. As I’ve gone around meeting voters, this is one of the top issues I’ve heard concerns about. It’s an urgent one.
While College Students are an important part of our community, they are also a big potential source of profit for developers. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a developer trying to make a profit. That’s their job. And, if they do their job well, we all benefit. However, it seems as if the vast majority of new major housing development has been college student apartment complexes.
There’s a reason for this. Developers can make more money on students than they can on anyone else. Why? Students are willing to live 4-to-an-apartment and pay rent on their individual rooms. You can make a lot more money charging 4 separate rents per apartment than you can if you have a young professional paying just one rent.
So here’s the problem: we do not have an infinitely increasing student population to fill all the new apartments. We have student apartment complexes that are struggling to fill their rooms, or even closing all together. There is not a need for additional student apartment complexes in Greenville.
If we continue to build more of these, more will close as the newer complexes attract students. If this was a more typical style of apartment complex, they could do some work and try to appeal to non-students. However, these complexes have acquired a special-use permit that allows them to build 4 bedrooms to an apartment and have a bathroom in each room. Professionals aren’t looking for that kind of apartment.
So as these complexes close and are unable to find tenants, we will have large empty un-kept buildings and all the problems that go with them. We need to act now to protect our city.
There’s another problem. If we continue to focus so heavily on student apartment complexes, there won’t be space for anyone else. We can see this problem developing in Downtown Greenville, where the Student Apartment Crisis threatens to make the area a students-only district. We need a variety of housing options throughout the city, especially in Downtown Greenville. Our downtown is the face of our city; all types of people should be able to live there.
We are at a time of great growth in our city. We need to make sure that we’re growing intelligently and with purpose in order to set ourselves up for success in the long-term. For now, that means that we don’t need more student apartment complexes.
To be clear, I’m not criticizing those who own or manage more-typical apartments and advertise to students. They should compete for that business and will be able to appeal to other groups should they decide to do so in the future. I’m also not criticizing those who own student apartment complexes. We need a place for students to stay, and they need to work to make a profit.
But, as a city, we need to focus on market rate and affordable housing for the foreseeable future.
The 2017 election will be critical for many reasons. For one, it will largely determine how we deal with this crisis. We can keep plowing ahead with no plan and no regard for the long-term effects, or we can make sure that Greenville develops a diversity of housing options and doesn’t set itself up for failure.
You vote is going to matter quite a bit this election.