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Condo craze a detriment to Tampa Bay, USF

Thankfully my student exchange program begins soon, because it is just too darn expensive to live in Tampa anymore. The tipping point came when I received notice that my apartment complex, like so many others in the area, was going the way of the condo-conversion craze.

This story will sound familiar to many. As the Tampa Bay Times reported recently, “In the past five years, developers have converted more than 25,000 apartments to condominiums in Hillsborough and Pinellas.” Add to it the statement in a recent Oracle story that, “According to Florida-Relocation.com, more than 1,000 people move to Florida every day” and you have a classic case of supply and demand pressures.

If this is so cut and dry, why all my angst? Perhaps because of the sheer magnitude of the offer price for my condo. Currently, I am paying $934 a month in rent, and the offer price for the apartment as a condo is $234,000 – for a 1,226 square-foot apartment. For those who are mathematically challenged, that is $190 and some spare change per square foot.

In a very indicative measure of just how overpriced the Tampa Bay housing market has become, compare my condo offer to the National Association of Realtors estimate that the median existing-home price in the country this year will rise to $220,300. So, while I have enjoyed my apartment, it’s no Trump Tower or even on the same level as owning a home.

So how does this affect the University and its students? Clearly while attempting to shed the label of a commuter campus, USF is not there yet. This being the case, affordable housing is not merely a challenge for county commissioners, city council and the mayor, but it is an issue for the USF administration.

As the USF Web site indicates, over 44 percent of graduates since 1964 live in the Tampa Bay area. The University alone has certainly left its mark in the community: $3.2 billion of annual economic impact to be exact. This sort of fiscal stimulus for the area could be lessened if lack of affordable housing and adequate wages cause those with valuable skill sets, such as recent USF graduates, to move to other portions of the country.

The region may go from condo-craze to brain drain as vital service jobs go unfilled. For example, how will a teacher, whose starting annual salary is $32,000, afford to live in the area? That is why this crisis requires active involvement by University officials to promote and lobby for affordable housing and sufficient wages for college graduates.

In addition, the realization that housing prices are skyrocketing should be considered by University officials when considering current tuition and fee increases. Many students are on fixed incomes, working while attending college and may find themselves unable to pay for the costs of higher education. Strapping graduates with burdensome debt will only exacerbate the problem of finding reasonable housing once they enter the job market.

While the University cannot solve the economic challenges of the Tampa Bay area alone, clear and prominent leadership is needed. President Judy Genshaft, for example, already has contacts in the community with her previous stint as head of an important Chamber of Commerce committee.

In fact, in a January column of the St. Petersburg Times, Business Columnist Roger Trigaux described President Genshaft, who was speaking before the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, as someone who “relishes attention” and “excels at cheerleading.” With this apparent leverage with business leaders, President Genshaft should use this power to lobby for the economic sustainability of the entire Tampa Bay area, starting with affordable housing.

While I am not delusional enough to think that leaders in the University will be able to single-handedly solve the challenges presented by this condo-conversion frenzy, the impact USF has on the community requires action, not silence. In the meantime, students like me will hope for either a winning lottery ticket or a U-Haul to move to another area of the country.

Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.