Decreasing rental rates increases off-campus options

Apartment rental and occupancy rates in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Arlington areas are declining, which could mean more options for university students living off campus and more negotiable rental rates, a university official said.

Craig Allen, director of Housing and Residence Life, said that in the past five years there has been a surge in developers opening apartment complexes around campus. The increase in available housing increased competition between complexes for student residents, he said.

Over the same period, the university expanded its campus housing options to accommodate the increasing number of freshmen enrolled and the increased interest of upperclassmen to remain in campus housing, he said.

Margy Casebolt, an independent licensed real estate agent who works for Apartment Finders, said the decrease in rental occupancy in the Fort Worth area can be attributed to the combination of people losing their jobs, avoiding relocation during a down economy and moving into homes or apartments with a lower rent.

The average DFW and Arlington monthly rent in the fourth quarter of 2009 was $753, down 4.9 percent from the same period in 2008, according to the RealFacts Web site, an online apartment database that provides market overviews and comparisons.

Rents were in decline nationwide last year, according to RealFacts. The average monthly rent throughout the United States was $933 in December, a decrease of 3.3 percent from the third quarter of 2009 and 6.1 percent lower than the fourth quarter of 2008.

Casebolt said home prices were dependent on the home location and the current state of the housing market. Around the university prices stay relatively high, but occasionally an apartment complex will dramatically lower the prices of vacant apartments to attract student renters.

Allen said property managers with empty rental properties near campus often seek his help in reaching students and informing them of available properties. He said Housing and Residence Life is working on providing more information and assistance to students trying to move off campus.

“A lot of TCU students aren’t sure where to start looking,” Allen said.

Housing and Residence Life is currently working on an off-campus living brochure to provide students with information and advice on finding off-campus living arrangements, he said. They are also looking into sponsoring an off-campus housing fair, Allen said, to link students to rental companies in the area.

Many students move off campus and then choose to move back to campus for convenience, Allen said. Even though the size of freshman classes are increasing, he said, there are rooms for about 700 junior- and senior-level students on campus.

“Students want to be here,” Allen said. “The goal is to have two-thirds of our students living on campus.”

According to the university Web site, a little less than one-half of the undergraduate student body currently lives on campus.

Allen said that by fall 2010 there would be about 3,750 beds available for students on campus. Housing and Residence Life is planning for 3,600 to 3,700 students to live on campus in the fall semester of 2010, he said, an increase of 200 students over this semester. To meet the demand for rooms, Allen said, the university would postpone closing Colby Hall and make current resident hall lounges available for use as student bedrooms.

Jennifer Steffen, a junior nursing major, said she lives in the GrandMarc this year but plans to move into non-university sponsored housing next year. She said the GrandMarc was the only upperclassmen housing available when she applied to live on campus.

Steffen said living on campus appealed to her because of the proximity to classes, the security on campus and the convenience of having Housing and Residence Life nearby if there is a problem.

“I don’t think there’s enough (on-campus housing),” Steffen said. “And I think that upperclassmen, especially juniors, aren’t getting enough of an opportunity to pick on-campus housing.”

Some students recognize that rental housing is available but are unsure of how to find an affordable price and convenient location.

Kelly Pearson, a sophomore early childhood education major, said she does not know where to start when looking for a house off campus.

“As students moving off campus for the first time, we don’t really have this experience,” she said.

Pearson said she would benefit from university-sponsored information about finding rental properties at affordable prices and understanding the responsibilities of living off campus. She said she worries about the security and maintenance of off-campus housing.

“There’s other things that you’re going to have to worry about that TCU is not responsible for anymore,” she said.