Higher education, higher living costs

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By Paige E. Bolen
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

EAST LANSING – Maddie Hopkins nervously clicks through the open Web browsers on her laptop. The 20-year-old Michigan State University junior scrolls through endless property listings throughout the East Lansing area. She sighs with desperation as every apartment from the large management companies, such as Community Resource Management Company and DTN, are already leased.

“It’s just extremely annoying,” said Maddie Hopkins. “Everywhere that is close to campus is extremely expensive and places that are far away are cheap and go really fast. As a college student, I feel like it’s a lose-lose situation as far as housing goes.”

Living on a budget is hard enough for most students, but trying to find an affordable apartment or home in a heavily populated college town with the current dwindling economy? Impossible. With the rising price of room and board, many students are trying to find easier and cheaper ways to get by.

Sophomore Mike Hillins agrees and is looking into living on campus in the dorms for a third year. He doesn’t want to deal with the stress of fighting students for apartments far from campus.

“When you think about it, I don’t know why anyone would ever move off of campus,” said Hillins, a 19-year-old from New Boston, MI. “The management companies keep pressuring students to find housing earlier and earlier in the fall and it all seems unnecessary and complicated.”

Hillins said he believes the date for housing sign-up is becoming earlier because of the scarcity of properties. With more students coming to Michigan State, and eager to move off campus, the management companies push up the date because they have the capability to do so.

The housing pressure and prices affect all management companies, big and small. Jim Croom is a “small” landlord in East Lansing. He owns only seven homes and one 35-unit apartment building.

Croom said rent also tends to go up in a bad economy because fewer non-student renters can afford to buy homes, so more need to lease. He also feels the cost of apartments might go down if more are built.

“I think with more apartments being built near campus, competition may actually begin to push rates down,” Croom said. “The last thing a landlord wants is to have a place sit empty.”

Recent laws to East Lansing changed the zoning to prevent more houses from turning into student rentals. According to Croom, these laws allow no more than two unrelated people to occupy the rental houses, no matter how big or small. This instantly stopped houses from becoming available as student rentals.

“The market effect of preventing new student housing was that rental rates and landlords can charge even more and that market will stay higher than they would be if new residential houses continued to be student rentals,” said Croom. “Less supply in the close areas equal higher prices.”

It seems students are still stuck when it comes to housing. Stressed and discouraged, Hopkins continues to look through numerous property listings trying to find one that will satisfy her needs and budget.

“I never thought trying to find housing would be more stressful than applying for college, but it definitely is,” Hopkins said. “I’m going to college so that I can make money in my future. I shouldn’t be debating sleeping in my car for the next year.”

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