Student Housing Operators Collaborate on Crisis Tips

Unprecedented circumstances have inspired executives to join together to share strategies.

Given the pandemic-driven turmoil around higher education, one might expect to see student housing players in a panic. Articles like one in the Los Angeles Times in early July, titled “How to Get Out of Your Student Housing Lease,” certainly don’t help.

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But the industry has pulled together to share advice, boosting its chances of getting through the next year in good shape. Even at this early date, the sector is earning an “A” for Effort.


READ ALSO: Investing in Student Housing Amid Market Volatility


In March, student housing leaders began holding conference calls, initially with 20 to 60 people per call, to hash out approaches to the effects of COVID-19, according to Jamie Swick, senior associate with Colliers national student housing group.

American Campus Communities has kicked off its “Be safe. Be smart. Do Your Part” community disinfection and resident responsibility program. The company has teamed up with RB, the makers of Lysol, to overhaul cleaning protocols and evaluate high-traffic touchpoints in communities. Photo courtesy of American Campus Communities
American Campus Communities has teamed up with RB, the makers of Lysol, to overhaul cleaning protocols and evaluate high-traffic touchpoints in communities. Photo courtesy of American Campus Communities

Christine Richards, real estate consultant for student housing at Greystar, and executive vice president & COO of campus apartments at Miles Orth, organized the calls. There have been lots of questions, according to Swick, and “they wanted to keep the answers to the questions consistent.”

As of late July, Richards said, the calls had grown to more than 200 participants, including investors, owners and brokers, and representing nearly 400,000 beds. The National Multifamily Housing Council provides an update at the start of each meeting. Calls last about an hour, and at first they happened once or twice a week. They now take place every other week and are supplemented by a Microsoft Teams website.

“You can’t police a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds,” Richards conceded. But helpful tips have emerged. For example, stickers on the floor don’t work for social distancing, but orange cones do.

Other issues are trickier. “Some universities are still finalizing their plans,” Richards said. And if colleges change their opening dates, that can suddenly conflict with leases.

But leasing is in surprisingly good shape, within 400 basis points of last year and still improving, said Richards.

“College students still want to live in college towns.” Swick concluded. “It’s all driven by demand.”


Sector Insights rotates among market rate/luxury housing, workforce housing, low-income housing, student housing, senior housing and mixed-use.

Read the September 2020 issue of MHN.