With college neighborhood plan, homeowners face moment of truthIf you’re a homeowner fed up with noisy students, crowded curbs and laggard landlords dragging your neighborhood down, the city has a message for you: Be careful what you wish for.
By: Michael Kooi, Duluth Budgeteer News
If you’re a homeowner fed up with noisy students, crowded curbs and laggard landlords dragging your neighborhood down, the city has a message for you:
Be careful what you wish for.
That’s because things would likely get worse — not better — if all the college kids and creep landlords left your neighborhood tomorrow.
So says a market study commissioned by the city as part of its Higher Education Small Area Plan for the neighborhoods near St. Scholastica and UMD. (For the complete study, go to www.duluthmn.gov/planning/sap/he-documents.cfm.) It describes a highly fluid and fragile equilibrium between housing supply and demand wherein prospects for stability and growth depend more upon students staying put than moving out.
The findings throw cold water on the myth, clung to by some homeowners, that rental companies with deep pockets and shallow consciences have muscled families out of East End neighborhoods by snapping up single-family homes and renting them to the student hordes.
“If we could just get rid of the troublemakers and balance the playing field,” the thinking goes, “single families would rush back in — restoring the character of neighborhoods and the value of our homes.”
Unfortunately, the market research suggests otherwise. Specifically, there simply aren’t enough single families to fill the residential units that would be left empty if large numbers of students moved elsewhere.
In fact, the study estimates that if just half of the students currently living in the Kenwood and Chester Park neighborhoods were to move out, it would take five and a half years to fill the vacancies, based on demand trends over the past decade. And that’s only if every single person in Duluth looking for housing during those years moved to those two areas.
So, if new housing developments closer to the campuses were to suck significant numbers of students out of the surrounding neighborhoods (another fantasy popular among some resident owners), you might end up with fewer renters and ringers, but more empty, or perhaps even abandoned, houses.
You probably don’t need a real estate license to figure out what this scenario would do to the property values of houses that already typically sell for roughly 40 percent less than the city median price (according to the market data).
How delicate is the health of these neighborhoods? Well, the market study’s authors saw enough potential danger to recommend that a neighborhood stabilization plan for the East Hillside accompany any significant new housing development in the study area. Such plans aim to stimulate private investment in the target neighborhood through tools such as aggressive code enforcement and publicly supported acquisition/rehabilitation programs.
“That was a real eye-opener,” said Jenn Moses, the Duluth city planner leading the project, even though she and her colleagues generally understood where the data were pointing before commissioning the market study.
Ms. Moses will have her own chance to open some eyes next week when she presents the city’s draft recommendations for the Higher Ed Plan at a public meeting at UMD.
There, the question will be whether frustrated homeowners will see a stabilization initiative (provided the city recommends one) as an opportunity to invest anew in their homes and renew their commitments to the neighborhoods they love. Or as an excuse to pack up and move themselves.
Frankly, none of the people I’ve met at the plan meetings strike me as partial to the latter. But I can imagine it may take them a while to see a couch crammed onto a shaker porch, or hear the thumping of drums and bass at 3 a.m., and think, “This is a good thing.”
Michael Kooi is a freelance writer living in Duluth. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org