The idea of how student housing would change the face of downtown interested me from the moment the Standard moved into the spot at Prince and North Ave. However, I find the way that story has changed to rent increases and the impact on students and Athens residents more compelling. The story became the threat of studentification- a clever name for a certain type of gentrification. The NPR audio piece on this is what really started to draw my interest around last August. While the apartments come with a high price tag at around $850 dollars for a bed monthly, there is an allure to living downtown that could easily deter attention away from an increased rent. There are many fears in the short and long-term future that accompany an increase in student housing downtown. One being that a huge sea of students leaving residential areas, or contrarily, moving into lower priced units could cause a displacement of low income residents.
This is something that the majority of students don’t really pay attention to. I remember when I was trying to find a house to live in last year, it was such a stressful time because housing seemed so limited. I live in the historic Cobbham district, and didn’t even think about if my willingness to pay the increased rent on my house meant eliminated shelter for others. Starting at page 62, the 2o16 Athens-Clark County Workforce Study gives a really good look at the immediate and future housing problems for the average working resident in Athens.
Finally, I see how the idea of rent increases for students connects with the idea of changing the face of downtown. Aside from the literal change, e.g.; a giant unit consuming one the most popular blocks at Lumpkin Street and W. Broad Street, thinking about the future population of downtown residents is where I see the main problem. There are many student housing residencies off campus that charge rents around $300-$450 monthly. Compare this to the now near $700-$1000 rent for luxury student apartments downtown. If students on their own payroll and alike residents are removed from downtown due to a rent problem, the void will be filled by students from affluent families. Not to say there is anything wrong with this population, but it would affect the attitude and appearance of downtown Athens. A recent Red & Black article shows that while Athens prices remain low compared to a Georgia wide survey, the price for apartments increased by 20 percent in the past year. That number is only predicted to rise and has students feeling the pressure of finding housing more than a year in advance. Imagine coming to graduate school and not knowing your certain plan until a few months before, and then failing to find housing close to campus within your price range.
I’m not sure what lies ahead for student housing downtown and it’s greater impact, but I do know I feel uneasy about it.