How Off-Campus Student Housing Affects The Community Around The University Of Houston

As enrollment at the University of Houston increases and more students want to live near the campus, developers are building private housing centers in the Third Ward.

By Florian MartinFebruary 16, 2016 9:30 am,

This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media

In an area squared in by Interstate 45, Cullen, Elgin and Scott streets, old shot gun houses alternate with trashy, overgrown lots.

The majority of households here made less than $25,000 in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Just across the street, it’s a different picture. It’s the northwestern tip of the University of Houston, where the school’s athletic fields are.

But it’s on the other side where a developer will be building a luxury student housing complex with 130 units, a pool, fitness area and retail space.

Stephen Helm is developing it with Tier One Commercial Real Estate. He says this project will be in a better location than the other private student housing complexes on MacGregor and one that will soon be built on Cullen and I-45.

“We wanted something that was basically as close in proximity to the campus as we could possibly get,” Helm says. “So when we started looking around, doing our research, that site popped up. It’s, like, right across the street from the campus, within walking distance, and also directly on the MetroRail line.”

Rates will start at $800 for a room in a four-bedroom unit. Helm says that’s comparable to other housing on and around campus. (The Vue on MacGregor has a similar starting rate for the same layout.)

But it’s not the type of new housing Assata Richards would like to see in the Third Ward.

Richards is the community liaison for Project Row Houses. They offer low-income housing in the primarily African-American neighborhood.

“Doing affordable housing which students can access would be a better strategy,” she says. “And then that housing could be used for the students as well as the existing residents of this community that’s looking for improved housing and better housing choices.”

Richard says she’s worried that student housing complexes like this are taking away property that could be used for more low-income housing.

Brianna Phillips, who lives behind the future development, doesn’t mind a student dorm in her front yard.

“There’s a lot of students here anyway,” she says. “It really won’t make much of a difference. Hopefully there will be more police around the neighborhood.”

Helm, the developer, doesn’t think it will affect the community negatively. He says the housing complex will contribute to beautifying the area.

Usually that means property values go up, which can push out current residents. But Helm says it can benefit homeowners who will be able to sell their houses for much more than they bought them.

And the renters?

“I think if you look in that area, there’s plenty of affordable renting opportunities,” Helm says. “I wouldn’t say we’re going to be forcing anybody out.”

Who knows how the new building will affect the rental market. But a handful of homes behind the future complex will be demolished to make way for parking space – “at some point,” Helm says.

“That’s probably the only word I can think of: shocked,” says DaMarcus Goods, who lives in one of those houses with his mother. “A little bit upset.”

Goods didn’t know they will have to leave.

His neighbor two houses down, Calvin Jones, did know.

“You know, we don’t know when,” he says. “So we best be prepared when it happens.”

Both are on a month-to-month $500 lease. They aren’t sure where to find housing for the same price.

Also affected by the development are the businesses in the strip center on the corner of Elgin and Scott streets. A UH bookstore used to be here and several food options.

Now only a Domino’s is left, but they will move out before the developer breaks ground this spring.

Already gone is the Vietnamese “Hoang Sandwich” shop, a popular family business there.

Co-owner Hong Nguyen says they had been on this location for about 10 years and got upset when they were told they would have to leave.

“We want to stay here, because students, they love us,” she said when we talked to her before they closed. “When we tell the students about (it), they (are) sad, they (are) upset.”

Helm admits it was difficult having to evict the family business, but he would like them to come back once the new retail space is ready.

The Nguyens think they probably won’t be able to afford that and are now hoping to move into a location on the UH campus.

Dwight Boykins, council member for District D, which includes the Third Ward, supports the future student housing center.

“I think it’s a great idea, I think it’s on the rail line,” he says. “Quality livable opportunities for students are important to me.”

The University of Houston also welcomes the development.

“Some of that development, if it happens, could bring more community resources like potentially restaurants and grocery stores,” Don Yackley, executive director of Student Housing and Residential Life, says. “And I think all of our students could benefit from that kind of development in the area.”

Helm says the plan is to break ground for what will be called the “Icon” by the end of March.