Getting the middle-class to move into underserved communities being stablilized necessitates the enforcement of existing zoning and property maintenance laws. Absentee and slum landlords fill our communities and have been a major drain in community wealth for decades.
Slum landlords are the other side of housing in Baltimore and US cities across the nation.
This organization does a great job at activism and by tagging the pols in the district they are publicly outed and pressure may get results. Baltimore because it was allowed to decay for decades has in our surrounding communities absentee landlords----investment firms with management companies who are often not connected to the city. It seems very strange that Baltimore does not hesitate to bush to tax auction a homeowner living and trying to keep a home while using the excuses of zoning or city code not allowing more aggressive actions against these properties. One imagines vacants and slum landlords are simply trying to hold properties until some kind of development makes them valuable and THAT is likely why these houses sit for decades with no city action.
July 23, 2015
Our new address is slumlordwatch.com — please update your bookmarks. This will remain, but it won’t be updated. For updates, you’ll have to visit the new site.
Written by Baltimore Slumlord Watch
July 16, 20151318 Druid Hill Avenue: Historic Blight Property Address: 1318 Druid Hill Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217
Property Owner: Janice Stanton Hines, 3339 Charleston Street, Houston, TX 77021
City Council District and Contact: District 11, Eric T. Costello
State Senator: Shirley Nathan-Pulliam
State Delegate: Keith Haynes
The current owner of this home (a lawyer, no less) was jailed in Michigan, in 2010, for stealing $800,000 from her mother, who was 95 at the time. She was released in August of the same year, after repaying the money. In 2011, she sued family members, but the case was dismissed for failure to pay the $175 filing fee.
As this article states many US cities used Federal housing aid in ways that allowed for mixed-income housing in all communities and with that came Section 8 housing in neighborhoods where neighbors would be quick to fight and fix landlord problems described above. Cities like Baltimore always use Federal funding to segregate by class and race---and if a Federal program is attached to it---as in Section 8----then the goal is to place that housing and landlord in a position of fleecing both the tenets and the Section 8 program. Baltimore has Foundations enriched from simply slum/landlord fraud. All of that money was the revenue that would have been reinvested in each community's economy.
With no oversight and accountability of the Section 8 program with inspections of housing comes what we see below-----illegal uses for houses for drugs and prostitution. Baltimore was the city where ACORN was filmed in a similar situation although be entrapment the fact that these kinds of discussions occur show the systemic and open disregard to Federal guidelines for this Federal Housing funding. If ACORN was lax it was because the City of Baltimore was lax causing the city to loose billions of dollars in housing funds that could have led to stabilized communities and a big dent in housing insecurity.
'To eliminate the incentive structure that rewards landlords who convince voucher holders to live in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, there is a simple fix. The formula that calculates Fair Market Rent should be reformed to use numbers for individual neighborhoods, rather than citywide averages. Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it is considering a proposal to do just this. Such a remedy could save money, and that matters since currently there isn’t enough to go around: Only one in four qualified families receives housing aid'.
Fair market rent in these cases of Federal housing aid can also pertain to the need for mixed-income housing in all communities----so this is key to rebuilding housing.
The Power of Landlords
Despite the aims of federal housing policy, segregation persists—in part because it's in the interests of those who own property in the poorest neighborhoods.
Baltimore's Park Heights neighborhood, in 2012 Eva Rosen
Landlords in every city are salesmen aiming to persuade potential renters, which may lead them to underplay a property’s flaws and exaggerate its strengths. But what’s happening in cities such as Baltimore is different: Landlords lure renters to disadvantaged neighborhoods, perpetuating housing segregation and limiting social mobility. Baltimore has a long history of segregation, but today, it persists within one of the very programs designed to dismantle the problem: housing vouchers.
It was hoped that Housing Choice Vouchers, previously called “Section 8,” would break up dense concentrations of poverty by subsidizing rents for poor families. But the program has fallen far short of its promise. By and large, voucher holders are not moving to areas of opportunity. They are not finding places to rent in neighborhoods that include a mix of higher-income people, the kind of move shown in recent research by Harvard economist Raj Chetty and others to have long-term positive impacts on health and economic well-being. Rather, voucher holders are now concentrated in poor neighborhoods. This is even more the case for black voucher holders, whose neighborhoods are far more segregated than those of white voucher holders. Why are these patterns of segregation being recreated under a system that was meant to undo them?
A big part of the answer lies in a middleman: the landlord. Landlords play a key role in where people find homes. Yet their role in sorting residents in and out of neighborhoods remains largely unseen.
* * *
In Baltimore, where you live has everything to do with the color of your skin. I learned this firsthand in 2011, when I was a graduate student beginning research on neighborhoods with high poverty and racial segregation, and moved into just such an area.
To begin my own housing search, I called a number on a Craigslist ad for a one-bedroom in Park Heights, a neighborhood in the northwest part of the city, and the landlord on the other end of the line asked me skeptically if I was sure I knew where Park Heights was. I convinced him to show me the converted row home later that afternoon. When I showed up, the landlord, an Air Force retiree with a head of thick, silvery hair, took one look at me and simply said, “Sweetheart, this is not a neighborhood for a girl like you.” What he meant was that this is not a neighborhood for white people. One thing was eminently clear to me even at this early stage: Landlords have enormous power to affect where people live.
I ended up spending more than a year in Park Heights, getting to know landlords and watching them show properties, do repairs, paint and repaint walls, and unclog toilets. Residents in Park Heights, as in many other neighborhoods to which voucher holders are flocking, face unimaginable poverty and violence. Life expectancy is almost 15 years lower than in affluent, white areas of the city. One in four households lives under the federal poverty line, compared to only one in six nationwide. Unemployment is rampant. Despite the drastic drop in crime across the country, the crime spike of the 1980s and 90s has only marginally abated in neighborhoods such as this one. On the day after the riots following the death of Freddie Gray a couple months ago, a man was murdered in Park Heights in an unrelated incident—the city’s 69th murder this year.
Park Heights, like so many neighborhoods across the country, reflects a legacy of years of housing policy that confined black residents to poor areas. After the Great Depression, federally-backed mortgages made it easy for whites to buy homes, but nearly impossible for blacks to do so. Banks refused to lend in predominantly black “redlined” neighborhoods, because the investment was deemed hazardous, and white neighborhood associations enacted restrictive covenants to keep blacks out. In the 60s, real-estate agents stoked fears of black incursion in Park Heights by flipping white-owned homes one at a time—a practice known as blockbusting. As whites fled in the subsequent decade, Park Heights transformed from 95 percent white and predominantly Jewish to 95 percent black.
In 1967, Otto Kerner, then the governor of Illinois, led a commission that looked into the causes of urban unrest in cities like Detroit, Newark, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The Kerner Commission’s final report revealed discrimination entrenched in federal housing policies ranging from how home loans were granted to where public housing was built. The commission warned of a nation “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” This prophecy only became more true as public housing stock aged and inner cities across the country declined. The reality today in cities such as Baltimore is not far off from this prophecy.
In the 1990s, facing levels of concentrated poverty never before seen, Henry Cisneros, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), proposed to “end public housing as we know it.” Nationwide, blighted high-rise towers were demolished, and vouchers were used to transfer much of the burden of sheltering the poor to the private market. Out of the five million households across the country that receive some form of federal housing assistance, over half now live in privately-owned properties. By making up the difference between what a needy household can afford and the cost of a unit in the private market, the voucher was supposed to create opportunities for people to move to safer neighborhoods with better schools and more jobs. By many accounts, it hasn’t.
* * *
In Baltimore, where nearly all of the high-rise public housing was torn down in the 90s, one in five households lives under the federal poverty line and the voucher rate is one of the highest in the country. Landlords face high vacancy rates and have difficulty collecting rent from poverty-stricken tenants. Filling all of those vacancies requires that landlords play a complicated game of matching tenant characteristics—such as family size, race, voucher status, and financial risk—to property characteristics such as size, condition, and location.
As landlords manage their portfolio of properties across different types of neighborhoods, they cherry-pick the tenants they want and match them to the units they most need to fill. “The thing is, you don’t need a lot of help when it’s a good area. But in the bad area, that’s when it’s hard,” says Oscar Mayfield, a landlord who also works as a property manager. “The key is, you got to understand that everyone needs somewhere to live. There’s a tenant for every house. You’ve just got to find the right tenant.”
In other words, there is a hierarchy of tenants, just as there is a hierarchy of homes. If the landlord plays the matching game wisely, “there’s a tenant for every house.” What this means though, is that the tenants at the bottom of the social ladder are also being matched to the worst homes, in the worst neighborhoods.
In disadvantaged areas, finding and attracting tenants who are able to pay their rent reliably is no easy task. This provides an incentive for landlords to entice voucher tenants to these units, since a big chunk of their rent is paid by the housing authority. “Everybody prefers Section 8,” Mayfield explains. “It’s tough times now. If the tenant doesn’t pay the mortgage, you have to. Section 8 ensures that you going to get your money.” Since the voucher program offers steady payment (for at least of the government’s portion of the rent), many landlords have oriented their businesses towards attracting and retaining voucher holders.
Beyond steadier rent payments, having a tenant with a voucher brings another benefit. Landlords can often charge more for units occupied by voucher holders than what they would go for on the open market. The voucher program’s rent ceilings are determined by what’s called Fair Market Rent, a standard based on average rents across the entire city, so they are often higher than what a typical unit might rent for in a less-affluent neighborhood.
One landlord I met had two identical units in the same building: The third-floor apartment was rented to a family with a voucher and went for $250 more than the identical unit on the fourth. This loophole creates perverse incentives for landlords to recruit poor voucher holders to properties in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Baltimore’s landlords have a whole toolbox of strategies to get the tenants they want to the often underwhelming properties they need them in. They range from benign sales tricks to more insidious manipulation. For example, one young, African-American landlord says that an effective tactic is to “put the tenant in a position where they are in control. So you come into a room and say, ‘What color do you want this room?’ And they feel like now it belongs to them, so it makes them want the property even more.”
Once the tenant has rented the home, a new set of issues arises. At this point, the landlord’s main concerns are to manage the tenant’s behavior in the unit, and to keep costs low by attenuating turnover. If the tenant tries to move while indebted to the landlord, she will lose her voucher, so some landlords strategically allow tenants to get behind on rent. As the debt accrues, it gets harder and harder for the tenant to consider a move without jeopardizing his or her subsidy. The threat of voucher loss looms large. One white landlord in his thirties explains, “It’s a big threat. If there’s 16,000 people that are waiting for a voucher in Baltimore, that’s a pretty big incentive. I would be scared.”
Together, these practices help landlords keep voucher holders trapped in units that deliver the biggest profits, in some of the very neighborhoods the voucher is supposed to afford them the opportunity to escape.
* * *
To eliminate the incentive structure that rewards landlords who convince voucher holders to live in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, there is a simple fix. The formula that calculates Fair Market Rent should be reformed to use numbers for individual neighborhoods, rather than citywide averages. Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it is considering a proposal to do just this. Such a remedy could save money, and that matters since currently there isn’t enough to go around: Only one in four qualified families receives housing aid.
In addition, families need to be better informed of their rights—for example, what they should expect from the landlord, and under what circumstances they can break their lease without losing their voucher. Providing mobility counseling, as a bill recently approved in Connecticut does, would help families learn about neighborhood resources such as schools, jobs, and crime when considering a move. And extending the period of time allotted to use the voucher (in Baltimore, it’s 60 days) would mean that families who don’t find an approved home in time would not be at risk of losing their voucher.
Housing policy in the U.S. has featured various attempts at dismantling poverty. In the 1930s, slums were razed and public housing was built. In the 1990s, towers were torn down and voucher subsidies came to be seen as an effective way of letting the private market remedy concentrated poverty and segregation. In theory, voucher programs should be providing opportunities for poor households to move to better neighborhoods. But in some cases they have done just the opposite. If the goal is for housing to be part of the solution to deep poverty and inequality, housing policies need to undo patterns of residential segregation—not recreate them.
Below you see what makes Baltimore rent court so corrupt---the drive to constantly move citizens having housing subsidy into a place where they cannot receive that subsidy. The same goal comes with zero tolerance ticketing the poor over and over and over so the fines reach a point of felony for failure to pay the city---this felony keeps a citizen from being qualified for housing.
'If the tenant tries to move while indebted to the landlord, she will lose her voucher, so some landlords strategically allow tenants to get behind on rent. As the debt accrues, it gets harder and harder for the tenant to consider a move without jeopardizing his or her subsidy. The threat of voucher loss looms large'.
This is the point----even if you are a person wanting housing segregation----not liking Federal Housing assistance which many conservatives don't----why allow all of that Federal funding be misappropriated or lost to fraud creating the conditions that make Baltimore known to be worst in the nation for housing? Around the nation all that housing funding was used under Federal guidelines and often socially progressive in inclusion with great success----
It becomes a case of great injustice to push that and decades later Baltimore citizens haven't left because THEY FEEL THESE PLACES ARE THEIR HOMES.
This is what we know shown below and this problem soared when Federal oversight was dismantled----much of the abuse of the program came from the landlords and city agency employees who knew they could game the system. The big losers----citizens simply wanting housing stability so needed to get employment, family, and health on track. This was the original intent of Federal Housing programs----with long-term unemployment it kept people trapped in a safety net living.
Those wanting to end housing subsidy will shout against all this corruption and yet---they are the ones dismantling all the oversight and accountability that allowed this program to operate effectively for decades.
Section 8 abuse? Why aren't we surprised?
Valley Press ^ | Tuesday, February 19, 2008. | EDITORIAL
Posted on 2/20/2008, 1:10:29 PM by BenLurkin
The Section 8 housing program - is funded by the federal government and administered by local housing authorities across the nation - is supposed to provide a hand up for needy or disabled people to make ends meet. It's not supposed to be permanent and, most of all, it's not supposed to be for people with criminal records, or people who use illegal drugs, or people who invite in unauthorized tenants or people who receive unreported income to cheat the system.
Yet, as we've been reporting for the last two years, all these activities are rampant in Section 8 housing.
We've written many times in praise of Lancaster and Palmdale, as well as Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, for attacking the problem with regular inspections as well as for setting up a tip line to report fraud or abuse.
So it comes as no surprise that, as reported in a Los Angeles newspaper on Monday, federal auditors have found that Carlos Jackson, director of the county housing authority, has not properly administered the $200 million program.
Under Section 8, tenants pay what they are able for a house, condo or apartment, and the government pays the rest of the rent to the landlord. Tenants typically pay about a third of the full rent.
So, for example, if the rent is $1,500, the tenant pays $500 and the government $1,000.
But the Feds say money sent to Los Angeles County has been mismanaged - and they want millions of dollars back.
Problems include failing to check annually on tenants' eligibility and tenants receiving larger subsidies than they are entitled to.
Jackson disputes the findings.
As you can see below this issue of Fair Market Rent goes beyond sound Federal Housing policy---it is what BAltimore needs as we build in mixed-income housing in each community including those downtown Enterprise Zones. If a city has rents so high that 3 university students feel they must share an apartment for one -----you have not met the Fair Market Rent.
When Baltimore City Hall works for Wall STreet Baltimore Development they are only interested in how to maximize profits for real estate owners but when the pendulum swings SO HIGH IN PROTECTING LANDOWNER profits----it causes adverse affects throughout the city and economy. Do students want to come to a Baltimore university if this is the housing conditions? Will young adults take that job with a Baltimore business knowing rents will take a sizable chunk of disposable income. Youth are being targeted in any number of attacks on wealth accumulation and this is one---knowing young adults are being brought to US cities for jobs and to work as VISTAs/interns.
This is the housing market a city like Baltimore should want to cater to----young adults---professionals----and yet we cannot get beyond protecting the landlord. I LOVE LANDLORDS AS SOMEONE WHO HAS CHOSEN TO RENT SINCE COMING TO BALTIMORE----and many I have encountered are fair and good property managers----we simply have too many landlords whose values are SHOW ME THE MONEY. There must be balance in rebuilding our communities as to these housing needs. Mixed-income housing breaks that cycle of concentrated wealth and poverty.
This is what PUGH FOR MAYOR OF BALTIMORE GETS YOU----and think who are coming out for these establishment candidates all intending to continue these practices.
Baltimore being a COLLEGE TOWN as it likes to promote should be proud to give students the accommodations students need.
Renting Less Affordable Than Buying in Most U.S. Markets But Not Where Millennials Are Moving Most
- Dec 23, 2014
- Daren Blomquist
Biggest Rent Increases in Williamsport, Pa., Elizabethtown, Ky., Midland, Texas;
Least Affordable Rental Markets Include New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami
IRVINE, Calif. – Dec. 23, 2014 — RealtyTrac® (www.realtytrac.com), the nation’s leading source for comprehensive housing data, today released an analysis of fair market rents and median home prices in more than 500 U.S. counties, which shows that buying is still more affordable than renting in the majority of U.S. housing markets, while the opposite is true in markets with the biggest increase in the millennial share of the population over the last six years.
RealtyTrac analyzed 2015 fair market rental data recently released by the U.S. Department for Housing and Urban Development for three-bedroom properties in 543 counties nationwide with a population of at least 100,000. In the 473 counties with sufficient rental and home price data, the fair market rent for a three-bedroom property in 2015 will require an average of 27 percent of median household income, while buying a median-priced home requires an average of 25 percent of median household income based on the median sales price in November.
Buying a median-priced home was more affordable than renting a three-bedroom property in 68 percent of the counties analyzed, representing 57 percent of the total population in those counties.
But in the 25 counties with the biggest increase in millennials between 2007 and 2013, fair market rents for a three-bedroom property in 2015 will require 30 percent of the median household income on average while buying a median-priced home requires 36 percent of median household income on average. For the analysis millennials were defined as anyone born between 1977 and 1992.
“First-time buyers and potential boomerang
homebuyers are stuck between a rock and a hard place in today’s housing market: many of the markets with the jobs and amenities they want have hard-to-afford rents and even harder-to-afford home prices; while the more affordable markets have fewer well-paying jobs and tend to be off the beaten path,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “Those emerging markets with the combination of good jobs, good affordability and a growing population of new renters and potential first-time homebuyers represent the best opportunities for buy-and-hold real estate investors to buy low and benefit from rising rents in the years to come.”
Rental trends in markets with biggest increase in millennial population
The top markets with the biggest increase in the percentage of millennials over the past seven years were counties in Washington D.C., San Francisco and Denver, all of which saw an increase of more than 50 percent in the share of the population that is millennials.
Other markets in the top 25 for biggest increase in millennials included counties in New York, Nashville, Portland, St. Louis, Seattle, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Orlando, Austin, Des Moines and Midland, Texas.
–The average 2015 fair market rent in these top 25 counties is $1,459, 19 percent above the national average for all counties analyzed.
–On average 2015 fair rents increased 3 percent from a year ago in these counties, with the standouts being Denver County and Midland County, Texas, both of which saw fair market rents increase more than 20 percent.
–Median home prices increased 8 percent from a year ago in these counties on average compared to an average 7 percent increase among all counties analyzed nationwide.
–The average unemployment rate among these counties was 5.2 percent in October compared to an average of 5.5 percent for all counties analyzed.
Markets with biggest jumps in fair market rents
The top counties in terms of increasing fair market rents on three-bedroom properties were in Williamsport, Pa., Elizabethtown, Ky., and Midland, Texas, all of which saw an increase of 24 percent or more in fair market rents compared to 2014. Williamsport and Midland are both experiencing oil and gas booms facilitated by fracking, and Elizabethtown is home to the Fort Knox U.S. Army post.
Other markets among the top 25 for increasing rents included counties in Denver, Colo., Asheville, N.C., Chicago and Santa Barbara, Calif.
–The average 2015 fair market rent in these top 25 counties is $1,327, 8 percent above the national average for all counties analyzed.
–Among these counties, 2015 fair market rent on a three-bedroom property will require 25 percent of median household income on average while buying a median-priced home requires 27 percent of median household income on average.
Least affordable rental markets
The top counties where fair market rents were least affordable as a percentage of median household income were in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, Virginia Beach, San Francisco, Eureka, Calif., and Los Angeles. Fair market rents required at least 40 percent of median household income in all of the 10 least affordable counties.
“With interest rates still at record lows, the buy analysis is compelling for many renters,” said Mike Pappas, CEO and president of the Keyes Company, covering the South Florida market. “We are beginning to see those who lost their homes in the great recession re-enter the purchase market. Coupled with the re-emergence of the low down payment loans and the aging of the millennials – 2015 bodes well for an improving purchase market.”
JUST AS THE ECONOMIC CRASH IS AROUND THE CORNER!!!
As US universities move to recruiting foreign students having wealth that makes for university campus living arrangements tied to the same AMENITY policy that made university tuition soar these few decades. Since Wall Street global corporate neo-liberals are not hiding their vision of our US universities being GLOBAL -----with ever-decreasing ability for ordinary citizens to get into most universities----the student living in Baltimore's College Town is tied heavily on these new campus structures increasing annual tuition while living off-campus sends students into Baltimore's wealth vs poverty community housing crisis.
You're going to love it here.®Going to college at the University of Maryland is extraordinary — how you live it should be too. The Varsity’s fully furnished, modern living spaces feature enhanced-privacy floor plans for comfort and study, amenities promoting health, fitness, and socialization, and professional on-site management.
And, we make sure you also have the resources you need to succeed. Our 24-hour Academic Success Center with iMacs and free printing; study lounges; Wi-Fi hotspots and internet access included in every apartment help you stay connected to your studies — not to mention your friends and family.
Obama and Clinton neo-liberals created higher-education reforms deliberately meant to send higher education GLOBAL for students with the goal of students only able to afford to pay these high tuition rates being allowed to attend. Maryland Assembly passed these same policies and now start with SPECIAL CONDITIONS FOR RECEIVING STUDENT HIGHER-EDUCATION FUNDING----creating the same need for citizens to be in the right place doing the right thing in order to get ahead----THE PAY-TO-PLAY OF HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING----and of course PUGH for Mayor of Baltimore leads in this private funding for the right student in Baltimore. Meanwhile, we see in Baltimore the same conditions in housing as this article shows in other states.
THIS IS HAPPENING BECAUSE OF CLINTON/OBAMA/REPUBLICAN WALL STREET GLOBAL POLICIES ----
Feb. 1, 2013 at 10:03 a.m.
michael walser: Amen to you for speaking the truth. I would like to add something missed here. All of this "luxury" housing also makes it nearly impossible for a non student to find an apartment. Yes, I realize there are other properties away from campus. However, some folks don't need three plus bedrooms. These out of state corporations charging outlandish rent fairly well block an average single working person from getting a small apartment.
Feb. 1, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.
tiger091: YES. THANK YOU. Someone needed to say this.
Feb. 1, 2013 at 9:03 p.m.
MB: Yes, agree with tiger 091. Somebody had to say this. The issue should not be overlooked.
Feb. 4, 2013 at 8:08 p.m.
Jack: SERIOUSLY. get your head out of your butt, como. This is a college town. Think of your damn students first. We don't want to spend what earnings we have on housing. we just want to walk to campus! make cheaper housing. fix east campus. screw the frills. ...and that ninth street complex is an EYESORE - completely ruined the quaintness that was right off campus.
This is very much what is happening in Baltimore's housing around our city center universities
Editorial: Too much 'luxury' student housing hurts everyone
Feb. 1, 2013
Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Maneater editorial board.
Columbia, Missouri is a college town. It was founded with education in mind — particularly the kind of education that attracts all kinds of Missourians. For the last 150 years, three institutions of higher learning — Columbia College, Stephens College and MU — have each made an irreversible impact on our city.
It would seem, then, that City Council would be receptive to the needs and wants of the nearly 40,000 postsecondary students living within city limits. However, the dismal and embarrassing state of student housing in Columbia today gives us the impression that city administrators place profit and expansion above helping provide its residents — all of them — with a good quality place to live.
This fall, three new “luxury" student housing complexes will open in Columbia: Aspen Heights, The Domain and The Lofts at 308 Ninth. Each has some pretty nifty amenities, including pools, wood floors, and even (in The Domain’s case) a full-swing golf simulator. Because of these features, each charges above-average rent.
These three add to the handfuls of similar “luxury" student housing complexes that have opened over the last decade, mostly in the Grindstone area a few miles south of campus. Most were planned and are operated by national corporations, which often employ questionable construction practices to get them up and occupied before the next “hot property” complex is built.
Students who lease at such places pay higher rents for granite countertops, rooftop pools and in-house tanning salons; however, shoddy construction is often part of the deal. More students living far off-campus can add to the growing sense of detachment and “commuter-ism” at our university — driving to class and back each day and not spending as much time contributing to our campus’ social activity.
Meanwhile, the valuable land around campus, particularly to the north and east, has many problems in relation to student housing. Much of it is too expensive for most students. If it is affordable, it’s in extremely high demand or unavailable to students due to reticent landlords. If it is affordable and available, it often lacks modern amenities or has fallen into disrepair — East Campus, the traditional heart of off-campus student housing, is crumbling.
Simply put, the problem is not a shortage of student housing. It’s a shortage of the affordable, no-frills housing close to campus that students want.
Part of the problem is the massive marketing budgets of the “luxury" student housing companies. We see all sorts of swag — hats, shirts, backpacks, water bottles emblazoned with the logos of these developments — being given out and carried around campus. If it weren't for word of mouth, it seems many freshmen would have no idea that there's off-campus housing available to them other than Aspen Heights, The Domain and the like.
But much of the blame for Columbia’s student-housing mess falls on city officials’ willingness to rubber stamp nearly every new complex that gets proposed, regardless of whether it’s smart growth that fills a demonstrated need, or even if it hurts longtime Columbia residents. Last year, a low-income mobile home park housing many of the city’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents was razed to make way for Aspen Heights, a national chain housing development. Now, the city is even considering tearing down the oldest and possibly the most historic building in Columbia — the Niedermeyer house at Tenth and Cherry — to make way for more of this "luxury" student housing.
To be fair, these new developments are enticing to students. They provide comfort and security to parents. There is nothing wrong with “luxury" student housing in itself. But the problem comes when there is simply too much “luxury” and not enough affordable housing close by. The city benefits from higher rents, too, but seems to miss, or ignore, the disservice that is being done to students and Columbians alike by encouraging a "red-hot" luxury apartment market too quickly and without a solid backbone. City Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission need to regulate rent prices, help restore East Campus and other housing close to campus and need to learn how to say no to development companies.
There isn’t much organized opposition to this pattern on campus, either. After losing its battle to stop Aspen Heights' development, the Missouri Students Association has stopped pursuing this issue of affordable and accessible student housing. As MU students’ primary representatives, MSA members should re-establish the special commission they created to advocate smarter housing. And students should educate themselves to be better tenants and consumers.
We are constantly building in anticipation of an ever-expanding student body. But unlike the Grindstone prairie south of campus, the university is fast approaching its carrying capacity. What will happen when our university stops admitting “record-highest” freshman classes each year? We’ll have a city full of cheaply-built, under-occupied student housing.
The city of Columbia needs to understand this and give more attention to the affordable housing around campus and less to out-of-state corporations who come in and build overvalued "luxury apartments." Columbia is a college town, not a playground for developers. It’s time to step up and make our city better.