New housing trend should help students

The new motto of Tuscaloosa seems to be “bigger is better.” This translates to bigger dorms, bigger houses, bigger apartment complexes,and bigger rents. Much bigger rents. For your 4-bedroom, 4-bathroom apartment with modern kitchen appliances and, for many, pool and gym access you can expect to pay between $565 and $725.

For this exorbitant expense, you can expect to live in a house or apartment with paper-thin walls that was built practically overnight, and you can count yourself lucky if your landlord is responsive to maintenance requests. Why should they care? For the past several years The University of Alabama has experienced so much growth in its student population, particularly from more affluent out-of-state students, that landlords have little to no incentive to treat their tenants well because they are replaceable. “If you don’t like the unit, I have 10 calls a day from people trying to lease it from me,” is an often-used pressure-tactic.

Sadly, up until this year, they have been right. If you want to live remotely near campus, it has been their way or the highway. Literally, if you do not like their offer you will have to move out to the fringes to find cheaper options, and good luck finding a friend to room with you there.

However, the times are changing for owners of rental properties in Tuscaloosa. Signing leases in September and October used to be a given for renters. This terrible timeline caused incoming freshmen to scramble to find tolerable roommates within their second month on campus and to pray that they do not have change of heart later on. Now this practice is turning into a renter’s misty-eyed dream.

Overbuilding is forcing the price of prime properties ever downward. I am sure many of you have watched with glee as apartment complexes have been forced to offer better deals including “utilities-included” rents and large signing rebates.

Students, know that you have more bargaining power in your leasing decisions than in years past. If a landlord tells you, “Nothing will be left in April,” they are wrong, and you can walk away. If a landlord tells you, “$725 is a great deal; everyone else is paying more this year,” they are wrong, and you can walk away. Negotiate for what you want and take control of your living situation.

While this news may seem like cause for celebration for all, think again. If this market correction continues to its logical economical conclusion, complexes will close, leaving many students and residents out of work and overwhelming the city with vacant properties. As those from large metropolises can attest, vacant properties are prime targets for vandalism, illegal operations, and other public health and safety menaces.

To the city, I applaud the steps that the Mayor’s Student Rental Housing Task Force has taken to reduce the incentives to build new units, but more is needed. If we are to avoid the bursting of a municipal housing bubble (oddly while housing prices across the country are rising), steps must be taken to restrain overzealous speculative building while enabling young residents to have positive rental experiences during college.

Leigh Terry is a sophomore majoring in economics. Her column runs biweekly.

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