Rich Student, Poor Student

Mike MeyerJanuary 1, 2018
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Pricy campus-area apartments give ASU students an honorary bachelor’s degree in gentrification.

Sydney Warsaski wanted the classic “college experience” when she started at Arizona State University in 2016. Warsaski, now 19, was attracted to the typical college lifestyle, and ASU’s Tempe campus offered it. After a year in the dorms, she wanted a place with a private kitchen. Her search began for a new living situation.

For Warsaski and many students, finding an apartment that’s safe, affordable and, as Goldilocks said, “just right,” is difficult. The Tempe real estate market isn’t kind to students with limited means, yet more high-end apartment complexes are springing up.

Just across from Sun Devil Stadium sits University House, known as “The Hub,” an 18-story glass box built in 2013 with a swank rooftop pool. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 800-square-foot apartment costs each roommate about $999 per month – before utilities. A flat on Floor 10 or above costs extra, as does a view of the stadium ($25) and a parking space ($125). By comparison, a larger two-bedroom apartment just off campus is just shy of $1,300 per month for the whole apartment, not per bedroom.

The Hub set a precedent for luxury student housing. Since then, upscale complexes like West 6th, an “elevated living” building near Mill Avenue, and Rise on Apache, which finished construction in 2017, have flooded the area. Rise developer Shepley Bulfinch touts the luxury apartments’ “designer furniture,” ski simulator, high-speed gaming center and rooftop running track.

“A majority of millennials through Generation Z are desiring to live in urban environments,” says Rise on Apache architect Joe Herzog. “The problem is that housing costs are so high.”

Herzog started designing luxury apartments for students eight years ago when this “phenomenon” took hold. “It is constantly evolving,” he says. “They’re cycling through basically a generation every four years on campus that has new demand. It’s really amplified with the housing and amenitization.”

The demand came from different places, he says: Students want fun communities while parents want safety and academic spaces. Herzog says it’s a delicate balance between poolside cabanas and group study rooms. The demand creates competition among the developers. “It’s like an arms race to get those students to stay in your building.”

Some students work multiple jobs to make ends meet, while others rack up credit card debt. Warsaski points to two ASU friends who make sacrifices to live in nice housing. One shares a bedroom but wants amenities galore – granite countertops, stainless steel appliances. The other works three jobs and wants a private room.

Other students’ parents pay for rent, they use financial aid or they take out loans to cover housing costs. The average rent price in Phoenix is $1,154 for a two-bedroom, but Herzog says that price tends to spike near campuses and public transportation.

“While rent is [at] a premium, they’re extremely efficient units that aren’t using very much electricity, and the lifestyle [is also efficient] with the public transit,” Herzog says. “In the end, it all balances out.”

But does it? How will accustomizing college students to luxurious amenities serve them when the onus is on them to pay for their living? Are we setting them up to fail at “adulting” post-graduation? Time will tell.

Warsaski, for one, has moved past the idealized experience and lives in a furnished, two-bedroom apartment off campus with a roommate. With parking, she pays $740 a month. For her, that’s just right.

Splurge or Save: College essentials for every price point

Splurge or Save: College essentials for every price point