Getting Schooled

Students had to leave their housing during shelter in place. But that doesn’t mean student housing is going anywhere.
Jessica Fiur, Managing Editor
Jessica Fiur, Managing Editor

Daily confusion about assignments. Annoyance about how to best communicate during Zoom classes. Frustration over how to get everything done in a timely manner. And my kids are having a hard time adjusting to full-time virtual learning as well.

With schools shuttered during COVID-19 to slow the spread of the virus, students must complete their assignments online. That has been an adjustment—especially for college students, many of whom had to pack up mid semester and head back home.

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Will colleges reopen in the fall? No one knows yet. Although some schools plan to resume in September, others plan to hold virtual classes. Other schools are waiting until more information becomes available, before making any announcements.

Of course, this has student housing operators and developers on edge. No in-person classes mean no renters, which means empty apartments and buildings. But hope is not lost! Last month, Multi-Housing News Editorial Director Suzann Silverman detailed the growth in demand in this sector. And in this issue, Greg Isaacson delves into the resilience of the industry.

To slow the spread of the virus, social distancing is required, and that mindset will likely continue for a very long time, making single rooms for students very appealing. Many current on-campus dorms have students sharing a room with one or more other students. One of the few positives of the COVID-19 (beyond the acceptance of leggings as work attire) is that private-sector developers are beginning to think of how to mitigate density. This could well prove to be a boon for student housing. Personally, as someone who was forced to live in a triple my freshman year of college, a private apartment sounds like a dream.

Whether or not it happens this September, the following semester, or the year after that, students will eventually return to campuses. Even if the housing looks different in the coming years, be it fewer students in each apartment, common spaces that aren’t so “common,” or any other adjustment this virus forces us to make, there will always be a need for student housing. Especially if the other option is permanent virtual classes.

“One theme that has emerged is the almost universal distaste for exclusively online learning,” Christopher Merrill, co-founder & CEO of Harrison Street Real Estate Capital, said to Isaacson.

“Amen to that, I think, as I try to log my daughter in to her next kindergarten reading group Zoom meeting. Amen to that.”