Market for Student Housing Keeps Building at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For Christopher Tornello, manager of CT Rentals, the Youngstown State University community is a proven rental market.

Tornello’s company has been leasing properties to YSU students for 40 years. When he attended YSU, he saw firsthand his fellow students’ need for better housing.

“Most of the housing that was offered students was substandard,” he recalled Tuesday. His friends who lived in off-campus housing had “a lot of negative experiences with their landlords, culminating in putting the rent into escrow. … I saw that they weren’t getting a fair shake and felt that there was a market.”

Tornello, owner of 13 properties he leases to students, has seen more players enter that market: the opening of the YSU-owned University Courtyard Apartments in 2003, followed by the privately owned Flats at Wick in 2010 and Erie Terminal Place in 2012.

And the market continues to grow.

Tonight City Council will consider a waiver of a portion of the sewer tap-in fees for Hallmark Student Housing LLC’s $7.5 million project at Fifth and West Rayen avenues. Officials broke ground in September on the Columbus developer’s 162-bed student housing project, which is expected to be open for business this fall semester. The YSU board of trustees also recently took steps toward an additional complex on university-owned property.

Nearly 1,300 students live in campus-controlled housing, about 10% of enrollment, reports Danielle Meyer, director of housing and residence life at YSU. “Although current housing options on, near and adjacent to campus are not overflowing or contending with wait lists,” she said, “there does seem to be success in leasing new apartments as they are built.”

Meyer says demand for housing has increased the 16 years she has been at YSU. “University housing had over capacity when the University Courtyard apartments opened. They filled and university housing was doing well when the Flats at Wick opened,” she said. “As new housing has continued to open, it has seemed to generate interest and excitement in living on or near campus.”

Student demand has definitely grown for more housing choices, affirmed Denise Latsko, community manager for Common Wealth Property Management in Youngstown. Common Wealth leases a half dozen units near campus to students.

“We don’t have a big community but we run at 100% occupancy most of the time,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing a lot of kids from out of the area who are moving into the area looking for housing. They want to live near campus.”

“Students are excited to live independently in modern, attractive housing near a thriving downtown atmosphere,” YSU’s Meyer says. “Living at home just doesn’t give the same experience. Word of mouth abut the various apartments and opportunities is spreading and the feedback is very positive.”

Slow, incremental growth is providing YSU students the opportunity to live on or near campus. “[It] is something we need to become a real, comprehensive university with every opportunity available,” YSU President Jim Tressel said.

Last month YSU trustees authorized the lease of property at Wick and Lincoln avenues to LRC Realty Inc., Akron, to develop a new student-housing complex. YSU can begin negotiations with LRC for a ground lease for the property, Tressel said.

“The downtown is really growing and becoming vibrant, and connecting [downtown and YSU] is a tremendous benefit for both,” he remarked. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for students to be close to the library and close to the downtown, close to the [Youngstown] Business Incubator, close to America Makes, close to Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts, whatever. It’s just a great opportunity to make it a great university town.”

The project would encompass a little more than 100,000 square feet, with four stories of student housing – 165 beds — and some 15,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, said Gary O’Nesti, special projects director at LRC. Price tag for the project is yet to be determined.

“The market is there and the opportunity is available at YSU,” O’Nesti said. O’Nesti, who briefly worked for the city several years ago, notes that LCR President Frank Licata is a YSU graduate, “one of the reasons the market was important to us,” he says.

Amenities will include WiFi, a fitness center for tenants, and potentially a “roof deck type of exposure,” he said.

Discussions have begun with retailers and O’Nesti described interest as “very good.” He expects commercial tenants will be a mixture of dining and specialty retail. “It will be complementary to the students and the downtown as well,” he said.

As enrollment at YSU rebounds, more individuals from outside the region are applying and will be looking for a place to live on or near campus, said Eddie Howard, associate vice president for student experience.

“We know that we don’t have the wherewithal to build those properties on our own. So the next best thing is find some public-private partnerships so those additional housing units can be developed,” he said. “And this is a model that a variety of other institutions are using. … That’s really a trend that’s just going on across the nation.”

Research shows students who live on campus tend to do better academically, and are more involved campus activities, he added.

Howard knows firsthand what living in the campus community is like. Hired last May, he was asked whether he would be willing to live on campus for a while so that he could start sooner. Since coming to Youngstown, he has lived in University Courtyard.

In addition to reaffirming the “positive” aspects of living on campus, the experience allows him to see the activities within the complex and the students’ various experiences. He also sees the issues they face regarding transportation and repairs in the residence halls are made in a timely manner. When he is ready to buy a house, one thing he’ll keep in mind is being close to campus so he can respond to students’ concerns, he said.

The residence halls YSU operates are Kilcawley House, Lyden House, Wick House, Cafaro House and Weller House Apartments. The rate for Kilcawley, Lyden, Wick and Cafaro is $4,495 per semester, which covers room and board, while Weller, which is room only, is $3,570 per semester.

Among the students living on campus is Quincy Carrier. A junior from Maple Heights, just south of Cleveland, Carrier has lived in on-campus housing since he arrived and has been a resident assistant at Lyden House since May.

“The community aspect is one of the biggest attractions of living on campus here,” he said. Having some of the amenities that students were used to back home requires communicating and sharing, he remarked.

He also enjoys not having the “barrier of having to drive 20 minutes to be able to connect with everybody on campus,” for example, for joint study sessions. Living on campus also makes participating in clubs easier, as well as having a place to stay during the long gaps between classes and activities.

The telecommunications and theater major said his role as a resident assistant goes beyond “policing the halls or being a hall monitor.” It’s more about “being a community builder and making connections with the residents.”

Multi-unit options not managed by YSU include University Courtyard, Flats at Wick, Erie Terminal Place and Buechner Hall, a residence hall for women that has operated since 1940.

Tornello said his properties offer paid utilities, including cable and Internet, and the city housing department inspects and licenses all of his offerings. “When the student rents from us, it’s the complete package,” he said. Rents at his properties range from $435 to $575 per person, according to YSU’s off-campus housing guide.

Also, by renting the individual residential homes, he claims to offer something his competitors don’t. “We offer a niche for students looking to live in regular residential-style living,” he said. He also markets to sports teams and other students who want to live with others involved in common interests or shared activities.

“They run on the same schedules. They are in the same activities. They are often in the same classes and for some reason they develop close friendships and they find residential living better,” he explained.

Pictured: Site preparation work at Hallmark Student Housing LLC’s $7.5 million project at Fifth and West Rayen avenues.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.