The changing housing market around the University of Saint Thomas is the focus of a new study that has been commissioned by the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee. WSNAC voted on August 9 to earmark $20,000 to $30,000 for the study to compensate Saint Thomas student researchers during the 2022-23 school year.

WSNAC is a campus and neighborhood advisory group made up of representatives of Saint Thomas, the Macalester-Groveland and Union Park district councils, the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association and Neighbors United. The study will include interviews with residents of the Merriam Park and Macalester-Groveland neighborhoods, locSual landlords, college students and university officials.

Several factors are driving the study, according to WSNAC co-chair Noelle Jacquet-Morrison, a resident of Merriam Park. “We’ve seen changes in the housing landscape, and need to understand the impacts on everyone in the community,” she said.

The residency requirement could be having an effect on the number of Saint Thomas students living in off-campus rental housing. WSNAC members have noted an unusually high number of “for rent” signs in the neighborhood. Another reason for those vacancies may be the decision by Saint Paul officials last year to increase from four to six the maximum number of unrelated adults who may legally live in a single dwelling.

Saint Thomas’ new campus residency requirement for all first- and second-year students will be fully implemented this fall. UST officials told WSNAC this spring that they are keeping exemptions to the residency requirement to a minimum. In fact, fewer than 100 second-year students are being allowed to live off-campus this year, they said.

A record number of UST students are expected to be living on campus this fall. Campus housing occupancy is currently at about 2,800 students, up from 1,399 in 1991. The increase has come with the construction of the Flynn, Morrison, Frey and Tommie North residence halls.

The residency requirement could be having an effect on the number of Saint Thomas students living in off-campus rental housing. WSNAC members have noted an unusually high number of “for rent” signs in the neighborhood. Another reason for those vacancies may be the decision by Saint Paul officials last year to increase from four to six the maximum number of unrelated adults who may legally live in a single dwelling.

 

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New apartment buildings catering to students

In the past couple of decades, more and more Saint Thomas parents have purchased homes in the neighborhood as a way to lower their children’s housing costs and raise rental income from their children’s classmates. Jacquet-Morrison wondered how many Saint Thomas parents still view that practice as a good investment if their children can only live in the house for two years.

Another recent trend has been the growing number of apartment buildings in Merriam Park and Macalester-Groveland that are being marketed to students. Well over half a dozen such buildings have gone up in the past decade, some with furnished apartments.

UST officials track the off-campus addresses of their students, and they have noticed an increase in Tommies who live near the University of Minnesota campus, where a lot of new rental housing has been built in recent years.

Effectiveness of student housing zoning district questioned

Another major focus of the study will be the student housing zoning overlay district that was established by the city in 2012 to limit the concentration of student rental housing in the neighborhoods around UST. The Saint Paul Planning Commission has discussed eliminating the zoning district due to accusations that it is discriminatory.

The zoning overlay district is roughly bounded by Mississippi River Boulevard, I-94, Snelling and Saint Clair avenues. The district limits the number of single-family homes and duplexes that can be rented to undergraduate students. Student rentals need to be registered with the city, and they must be at least 150 feet apart unless they were established before the district was created.

WSNAC members have said they would like to know how effective the student zoning overlay district has been before modifying or eliminating it. Some have praised the district for maintaining a healthy balance of students and families around campus.

Rachel Westermeyer, a Merriam Park resident and longtime landlord, recalled how some blocks around campus were dominated by student rentals before the overlay district was created. According to her, it has worked in some areas but not in others.

It has not worked so well for Josh Capistrant and his family. They live in Merriam Park just east of Fairview Avenue and outside of the original boundaries of the overlay district. When the student zoning district was first established, landlords snapped up properties around his house, Capistrant said, and his home is now surrounded by student rentals. “I couldn’t sell my house now,” he said.

UST officials are also interested in the study. “From our perspective, we don’t think the city does enough to regulate landlords,” said Amy McDonough, the chief of staff for the UST president.

—Jane McClure

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  1. Josh Capistrant

    The author here probably knows better than I do what was said during the meeting. Back in 2012 (things have changed in the market) the moratorium (before the overlay) stopped at Fairview, leaving my block unregulated. Between predatory student landlords and properties grandfathered in, properties got bought up and converted. To me, there’s an argument here for some land use regulation that strives to keep a block mixed and diverse. Currently, there’s 12 units of rental contiguous to my property. Most house UST student population. I’m interested in knowing them and interacting, often they are not. They are the kind of rental tenant that is isn’t mature or aware and rotates out every year or so. It’s conjecture that the quality of life stuff keeps my property values lower than neighbors on the ‘nicer’ end of the block. I could sell, but I’m here now closing in on 20 years, and investing in our home. (I’m a former UPDC and WSNAC board member)

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