Written Sample: Despite growth, downtown Phoenix lacks affordable housing for student population

ity officials say that students are important for the continual growth and future of downtown Phoenix, yet students say they are conflicted whether they can afford to live downtown. Alexis Macklin for Downtown Devil
ity officials say that students are important for the continual growth and future of downtown Phoenix, yet students say they are conflicted whether they can afford to live downtown. Alexis Macklin for Downtown Devil

Published by Downtown Devil

By Alexis Macklin, On Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

The lights and sounds of a bustling nightlife permeate the air. Restaurants and bars are busy, even at midnight. Laughter is escaping from the balconies of high-rise apartment buildings.

This is downtown Tempe, where Arizona State University students are invading from every campus, including the Downtown Phoenix campus.

Phoenix is the sixth largest city in the country, but its downtown offers few apartment complex options students can afford to live in. But affordability is not the problem; students claim there is nothing to do in downtown.

The migration of students leaves Phoenix still waiting for the nightlife the city hoped the students themselves would spark.

But downtown Phoenix is on the rise, Phoenix officials say. Downtown Phoenix is growing and this is where students will want to be. The bottom line is, students are not factoring in commute costs to their entire living expenses, Phoenix officials say.

“There was a definite pause during the recession … but now there is a greater desire for the urban living experience,” said Jeremy Legg, the economic development program manager for the city of Phoenix.

ASU reports that recent ASU journalism graduates make an annual salary of about $30,000. Journalism is the most popular major on the ASU Downtown campus according to ASU’s enrollment data.

Three apartments in downtown fit the bill and the proximity to campus for students: Skyline Lofts on Fourth and Fillmore streets, The Met on Third and Fillmore streets and the recently built Roosevelt Point on Third and Roosevelt streets.

The Skyline Lofts is the most expensive out of the three apartments, with rent ranging from $985 to $3,330 a month.

Weidner Property Management area director Cindy Schwartz said that the price point is compensation for the “downtown lifestyle” that the proximity of the complex provides to downtown as well as community events. Weidner Property Management operates different apartments across the country, including Skyline Lofts in Phoenix.

“We don’t necessarily have a preferred clientele, but we really target anyone who’s interested in that downtown lifestyle, since we have the proximity to downtown restaurants and shops,” Schwartz said. “As the downtown area continues to revitalize, our goal would really be to showcase how people can have the wonderful lifestyle and be close to everything.”

Next to Skyline Lofts is The Met, which offers rent ranging from about $835 to $1750 a month. Manager Heidi Walker said about 40 percent of The Met is student occupied.

“We offer some types of amenities that other communities don’t offer like a bike sharing program and a DVD library. Our pool is accessible 24 hours and it is heated in the winter,” Walker said. “Given the fact that ASU is establishing themselves in the downtown area and the development (with the Phoenix Biomedical campus), I see a lot more students coming this way. I think the student population is great for downtown Phoenix.”

Roosevelt Point was the most recent addition, welcoming their first residents in the fall of this year. The apartment complex was marketed to target upper-level students, graduate students and young professionals, said Susan Jennings, the Vice President of corporate communications and marketing at Education Realty Trust, the managing company of Roosevelt Point.

“The growing downtown locations for Arizona State University’s Law School and the Cronkite School of Journalism and the new biomedical zone are drawing more students who need housing that caters to them in the downtown area,” Jennings said. “The people and businesses in the surrounding neighborhood have made this location and our experience wonderful and welcoming.”

Sophomore criminology and criminal justice major Ashley Landry said she is currently apartment hunting for a place to stay for the next academic year with a friend. She is looking to stay at Roosevelt Point or somewhere in Tempe.

Landry said Tempe has cheaper housing options, and her friends live there already.

“There’s nothing really down here besides school that would make me want to stay (downtown),” Landry said.

Downtown students who move to Tempe do not factor in commuting costs into their cost of living, said Daniel Zayas, developer of a newly released downtown Phoenix housing guide.

“Pricing livability doesn’t have to do with just the roof over your head,” he said. “Someone who lives in downtown Phoenix wouldn’t need to get a car. Students would take into account that leaving downtown Phoenix means that they are paying more for housing or for the transportation costs.”

Junior journalism major Lauren Mendoza currently lives at the Met, but she said she was “determined” to live in Tempe last year.

“I was absolutely determined to live in Tempe last spring, nothing could have stopped me … except it was just unpractical,” Mendoza said. “I am a junior at the Cronkite School, and every single one of my classes are Downtown. I commuted to Tempe last semester for three (general education) classes and it was awful. I didn’t want to do it everyday.”

Senior criminal justice major Brian Moutinho moved to Tempe after his freshman year. He said he relies on free parking downtown and is happy to only pay for gas.

“I decided to move away from the Downtown campus because I wanted be at the main campus where there is a lot more to do like football games, basketball games, Greek life, Mill Avenue,” Moutinho said. “I figured it would be easier to commute for class two days a week than to drive to Tempe every weekend.”

Shelby Payne, a senior journalism major, said she moved to Tempe because she wanted cheaper housing and did not enjoy the environment downtown.

“When I lived in downtown, it wasn’t as built up as it is now,” Payne said. “CityScape was brand new with only a few stores, and like any other college student, I liked to go out on weekends. It was difficult because of the transportation schedules.”

There are a larger number of cheaper housing options in Tempe because there are more students in Tempe, but that does not mean that there aren’t any options in downtown Phoenix, Zayas said.

“I live in the Garfield district with a two bedroom, two bathroom duplex, but I pay $550 a month for that,” Zayas said. “There are deals like this all around town, and in this general area, (students) have to look for it.”

Roosevelt Point’s direct marketing to students has increased its occupancy. The apartment complex first had little traction to attract reservations, but now the apartments have become so popular, management already has interest for next August.

Landry said she wants to live at Roosevelt Point because some of her friends live there.

“I know a lot of people who live at Roosevelt (Point) already and they like it, so I will probably like it too,” she said.

The community experience at Roosevelt Point is what residents are paying a premium price for, and that is why is it smart for apartment complexes to market heavily on social media and online marketing to advertise the experience they are creating, Zayas said.

In the future, many new opportunities for affordable housing will emerge as downtown grows, Legg said. From low income housing at the YMCA to luxury living in housing complexes near CityScape, there are a large variety of housing options.

City officials are currently seeking approval to ask real estate developers for ideas to transform Central Station, which is located on Central Avenue and Van Buren Street. They hope to develop a multi-use building while still maintaining the station’s function as a transportation center for the community. Legg said the City Council will determine what type of building they want to see downtown, but it will most likely be a multi-use high rise, whether that is office space or residential.

Dan Klocke, the Vice President of development at the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, said with the Sandra Day O’Connor Law School moving downtown, there would be more students and more activity. He said it is important to keep students downtown and fit their needs for housing, but it is difficult because there are not a lot of older properties in downtown that are usually cheaper.

“I think that the students are a critical part of the growth downtown,” Klocke said. “The amount of life they bring to the streets and activity is what downtowns are about. The more people you have downtown the better it is.”

Zayas said that contrary to popular belief among students, there is not more to do in Tempe compared to downtown Phoenix. He said downtown is unique in its culture and is growing.

“I think the argument is that there is more amenities for students in Tempe,” he said. “I think that is the overall story that keeps on getting talked up, and that is why you will have students who leave downtown to move to Tempe. It’s the story that keeps getting told.”

“Everything’s always changing,” Zayas said. “I think it is only a matter of time before there is going to be a shift in that story.”




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