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Developers target UH for off-campus housing projects

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Campus Vue is one of the student housing complexes targeting UH’s growing student population. | Courtesy of Fountain Residential Partners

Sarah Chehade had no choice but to live on campus.

After transferring from Weatherford College — 30 minutes west of Ft. Worth — the math junior hadn’t spent much time in Houston, so she figured being on campus would be the easiest option, both socially and economically.

“I’m learning the area, but it’s all so new,” Chehade said. “It’s super expensive (to live on campus), but I didn’t have many other options.”

With new off-campus developments springing up near campus and taking away potential patrons from on-campus housing, the question remains: Are off-campus properties threatening to stall the growing on-campus population?

“We don’t see it as a threat at all,” said Don Yackley, executive director of Student Housing and Residential Life. “Students living off-campus have different needs, different wants and different price points.”

With 6,979 out of 8,008 on-campus beds occupied, Yackley said their primary goal is to have 25 percent of undergraduates calling UH home. Although Yackley doesn’t see that happening for another 10 to 20 years, UH is still looking for ways to make sure housing on campus is available to those who want it.

“Everyone can provide walls and roofs and beds, but the intentional programming – the connection with academics, learning communities (and) live-in faculty in residence – duplicate those things,” Yackley said.

“We think that we provide housing and investment in supporting student success. We don’t really see them as competition (because) we always have something that’s different.”

Brent Little, the president of Fountain Residential Partners, the Dallas-based developer responsible for building The Vue of MacGregor and a new sister property Campus Vue, says the student housing market is one of the largest in the country.

“There is no other significant quality housing in the area to satisfy the demand of the growing student body,” Little said.

“Factor in the Houston traffic, and it is easy to see why great housing close to campus is a necessity. Unfortunately, as with most highly urban schools, there is limited availability of quality land to develop housing.”

Given both UH and Texas Southern University’s proximity to the Third Ward, the area has become revitalized for student housing, giving developers the excuse to find land suitable to build a complex and start leasing as soon as possible.

For many developers, including Fountain Residential Partners and Austin-based Aspen Heights, the closer they can get to campus, the better.

Aspen Heights announced plans last week to build student housing on the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Old Spanish Trail, south of MacGregor Park – half a mile from the southeast edge of campus. The Vue on MacGregor and Campus Vue are housed half a mile to the southwest, near Bayou Oaks.

High construction costs have also left universities in a rut, according to the Houston Business Journal, which reported that while housing markets seem to be down, student housing sparks a glimmer of hope that students will leave their parents’ house and head off on their own.

Little said there was “no new purpose” to build luxury student housing until recently, when UH started promoting itself as a growing Tier One University. That factored into why The Vue and Campus Vue were built with such high demand.

The date of completion for Campus Vue hasn’t been officially announced, though the complex has started leasing rooms for the Fall 2015 semester.

“We understood that the demand would be large,” Little said. “But the response to….(the) Vue on MacGregor and Campus Vue has exceeded our earlier expectations.”

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