Rising rents in Tampa Bay are hurting USF students

To drive up property values before sale and justify rent increases after, many student apartments install luxury amenities that needlessly raise costs.

Community leaders, local activists, and public officials in Tampa Bay are increasingly in agreement: the rent is too high. Between rapid growth, gentrification, and real estate speculation, housing is rapidly becoming unaffordable for students and community members alike.

A 2019 report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that Tampa Bay’s low-rent housing stock has decreased substantially since 2011, with a 30 percent decline in rental units under $800/month.

As a result, the same report found that more than half of Tampa Bay renters are “cost burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. For about a quarter of Tampa Bay renters, the situation is even more dire — they spend over half of their income on housing, leaving them “severely cost burdened.”

What’s driving these rent increases? One culprit is speculation on the rental market.

A Tampa Bay Times article by real estate reporter Susan Martin described “rapid turnover” in Tampa Bay’s large apartment complexes, with “at least 172 communities with 50 or more units” changing hands since 2016. Once a complex gets sold off to a new company, Martin said, tenants can expect a rent increase.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because the same is happening to student housing around USF, per the Hillsborough Property Appraiser. Ten off-campus student housing complexes have been sold to new management since 2016, including properties like The Venue, Campus Club, The Social, and 42 North, with rising costs likely following each sale.

Adding to the pile, many complexes install luxury amenities before and after sale to drive up property values and justify rent increases. Glitzy interior designs, on-site movie theaters, and rooftop pools are becoming the norm for off-campus housing, offering a sleek brand but needlessly raising costs.

Developments like these are hurting college students across the nation. A 2015 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finds that the cost of housing constitutes a “significant portion” of student debt and deters lower-income youth from enrolling in or continuing college.

Rising costs for off-campus student housing are inseparable from broader problems in the housing market, and they merit broader solutions. The Hillsborough County Commission voted recently to create an affordable housing trust fund at $10 million per year, hopefully helping to alleviate Hillsborough’s broader housing problem.

USF students and school leaders should be a part of the allocation process, identifying solutions to uplift students and the broader community at the same time.

Meanwhile, USF needs a comprehensive evaluation of off-campus rent. The HUD report found, for instance, that colleges “systematically underestimate students’ off-campus living costs,” including housing.

A second look, and an increase in off-campus students cost-of-living calculation, would bring much-needed help to rent-burdened students.

Nathaniel Sweet is a senior studying political science.