Students face difficulty finding affordable housing

SMU is recognized nationwide for the many prospects and perks available to its students, including its prestigious Cox School of Business, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and a nationally ranked basketball team. What it doesn’t offer, though, is affordable off-campus housing options for its students.

“Finding an apartment in Highland Park is like finding an apartment in Beverly Hills, especially if you are looking for a ‘nice’ place,” said SMU junior Ashley Agapiou.

When Agapiou, an engineering, management, and information and systems major, started the search for an off-campus apartment as a freshman, she looked for recently built places in a nice area with a full kitchen with a dishwasher, refrigerator, and microwave. She also wanted a washer and dryer connection. These preferred amenities, according to Agapiou, are what make the properties near campus highly priced – and highly desirable.

“The cost of living is much higher specifically because of the area,” said Agapiou. “Highland Park real estate is some of the most expensive in the state of Texas.”

According to realtor Kevin Brown, who works for Summit Resort Group Real Estate, there are currently seven properties available for lease in the Highland Park area, ranging from $2,200 to $8,500, and in the last six months only three of 24 properties were leased below $2,000.

“This is about a 12 percent increase in price from the year before,” said Brown. “With the low inventory level of properties available to lease it continues to drive the process upward.”

With scarce inventory and sky-high prices, there are essentially no options for students.

“Normally student housing would be units that are on the low end of the scale and in Highland Park and University Park that inventory is almost non-existent,” said Brown. “I would think that the availability of student housing in those areas would only continue to be in short supply and not very cheap.

According to Zillow, an online real estate database that generates property listings based on individual preferences, the home values in Highland Park have gone up 6.5 percent over the last year and are projected to rise 4.3 percent in the next year. The median list price per square foot is $464, which is $368 more than the Dallas- Fort Worth average of $96.

For the last two years, Agapiou has paid a steep $1,000 for her room in a 3-bedroom apartment at The Summit located on the west side of U.S. 75 behind Dallas Hall. She shares the 1,700-square-foot apartment with two roommates. The total rent on the apartment is $3,200 a month. It’s expensive, but the apartment has wood floors, granite counters, and it’s close to campus.

When senior Andrew George and his friends began looking for off-campus housing, they faced difficulty finding a place that was affordable and close to campus. They used Zillow and Trulia, another online real estate site for buyers, sellers, and renters, to find a home that had the necessary amenities. However, George and his friends found their home the old-fashioned way.

“We ended up finding the house me and my roommates put a lease on by just driving around neighborhoods looking for places with ‘for rent’ signs,” said George.

George, an accounting major, and his three roommates pay $1,900 a month for a home near Mockingbird Lane between Greenville and Skillman Avenue. Although it’s not in walking distance to campus, the 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom property is nearly 2,000 square feet, and according to George, it is spacious and suitable for his dog, Barkley. It has a doggy door so Barkley can access the yard.

For George, a nice-sized yard was a definite necessity.

“I have a dog so it ruled out a lot of places to start, because we wanted to have a yard for him,” said George.

George, like many other students at SMU, looked outside of the Highland Park area to locate a reasonably priced home that could accommodate him and his roommates.

“We focused mainly on properties in the M Streets and ones around Knox-Henderson,” said George.

Compared to other nearby campuses, SMU’s location does not cater to students on a budget searching for off-campus housing. Mary Knickerbocker, a recent graduate from the University of North Texas in Denton, says there are multiple options around the university beginning as low as $400 a month. Campus Park Apartments in Denton offer proximity to campus and provide fully furnished units for students for $545 per unit. Less than two miles from UNT, the apartment is on the campus shuttle route and provides study rooms for its tenants, luxuries SMU students would pay at least $1,000 for. Students in Denton are also offered discounted rental rates at several locations.

“Most places that are not considered student housing offer student discounts,” said Knickerbocker.

According to Knickerbocker, there is a wide range of options for students that live near Denton, but they have to compete with students from Texas Women’s University for housing if they don’t begin searching early.

“If you don’t wait until the last minute, do some research, and utilize the school resources,” said Knickerbocker, “I believe that the options are plentiful.”

Jessica Ngbor, a senior at Texas State University in San Marcos, said narrowing down her well-priced options was the most difficult part about finding an apartment, a problem SMU students wish they had.

“I think the hardest part of finding apartments was actually just making a choice,” said Ngbor. “There were so many to choose from, and a lot of them are similar.”

When Ngbor transferred to Texas State, she looked for apartments that were walking distance from campus. The ones that were close, however, were much older and unfurnished, said Ngbor, who didn’t want to deal with buying furniture.

The important things she looked for in an apartment were price, location, bus route, and amenities, like a gym and pool.

“The pool was really nice and the complex was in the process of building a nail salon and barbershop, so I was hooked when they told me that,” said Ngbor.

Ngbor lives in a 3-bedroom apartment with two roommates, and pays about $550 after electricity and water are added, a rate much lower than most SMU students will ever pay for an apartment near campus.

Myca Williamson is a sophomore from Garland, TX, studying Journalism, Fashion Media and French at Southern Methodist University.

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