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East Lansing takes aim at high-end student housing

August 6, 2014

In recent years, developers across East Lansing have been building apartment complexes that look more like resorts than student rentals.

With amenities such as tanning beds, fitness centers, ball courts and study lounges, the apartment complexes are a one-stop-shop for both recreational and study needs.

And in-unit amenities, including granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and hardwood floors, resemble an upper-middle class suburban home rather than a cramped, squalid dorm.

Although some cost anywhere from $600 to $1,000 per person each month depending upon the number of roommates, high-end apartments that "elevate the concept of student housing" are on the rise, Planning, Building & Development Director Tim Dempsey said.

"We are seeing a trend toward higher-end housing units," Dempsey said. "It isn't just East Lansing that's seeing this, you can see this in every college community across the U.S."

Those vying for renters in the high-end housing market in East Lansing include The Lodges of East Lansing, Hannah Lofts and Townhomes, Midtown Apartments, St. Anne Lofts, and The Rocks at Chandler Crossings, which opens in fall 2015.

Luxury living

Apartment complexes and university dorms including amenities that "meld the academic and social" have been on the increase, said Arthur Lidsky, president of Dober Lidsky Mathey, Inc., a campus consultancy firm.

"I think we're seeing more of that now than we've seen in the past," Lidsky said.

Nick Sinning, marketing assistant for Capstone Collegiate Communities, which manages Hannah Lofts and Townhomes, said the reasoning behind offering more amenities is that students, many of whom are living on their own for the first time, desire convenience.

"It's just making everything convenient for our residents," Sinning said. "By having a fitness room in our clubhouse, you don't need to have that expense. With a shuttle, you don't need to have that bus pass and parking. College is stressful enough, especially if you have to work too, so convenience is that biggest thing."

Opening in the fall, Hannah Lofts and Townhomes will provide their renters with many conveniences, from free tanning to a late-night bus that runs until 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, Sinning said.

"We just want to go above and beyond and build a reputation of being the best place on campus," he said.

In 2015, Chandler Crossings, which recently added a theater room and dog park to their list of amenities, will add 376 beds of high-end housing known as "The Rocks." The developers, though, wouldn't say how much the new units would cost.

Will Randle, vice president of WestPac Campus Communities, which owns and manages Chandler Crossings, said the addition and their amenities are about meeting student housing expectations that exceed simply wanting a place to sleep and eat.

"The general business climate for student housing exceeds the rates of the market-rate housing," Randle said. "People that are out of college with jobs pay less for housing than students do, because the students are demanding (an all-inclusive) lifestyle, not just the place to live, but the lifestyle."

Although the attempt to achieve an inclusive lifestyle at Chandler Crossings has proven attractive for many students, its complex is located several miles from campus. 

Rent prices in downtown East Lansing have shown students will pay a premium for proximity to campus, even without a swimming pool. 

Above HopCat, St. Anne's Lofts offers one-bedroom, 390-square-foot studio apartments for $1000 a month. But for students willing to share a bedroom, they'll receive the addition of a proper living room at the paltry cost of $772 per person, per month.

Tracing the boom

In East Lansing, Dempsey said, the shift toward student apartments with "centralized amenities," such as basketball courts and pools, occurred at the turn of the century when national developers and investors took an interest in student housing in the area.

And while many real estate sectors floundered during the Great Recession, student rentals remained a sure bet because of stable or increasing enrollment numbers, Dempsey said.

"If you go back to like the early 2000's, that was the first time that we started to see an interest in student housing from larger scale developers from outside of the area," he said. "And that trend has only accelerated over the last decade."

As larger-scale apartment complexes offering centralized amenities became more prevalent, the offerings became the expectation for many prospective and current students, fueling a market demand, Dempsey said.

"People now have, maybe, a different understanding of what's available and what they want," Dempsey said. "Their friends have access to a basketball court and pool, and they say, 'Hey, I want to live in a place like that.'"

Although many double rooms are leased throughout East Lansing, they lost their prevalence during the early 2000's when an expectation of single-room living developed, Dempsey said.

Demand for amenities in the student housing market operates similar to demand in the smartphone industry — "they might be, at one point, unique, but then that's what everyone wants," he said.

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