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Will COVID Lead to a Student Building Boom?

student on campus

By Les Shaver

With shared bathrooms and kitchens, older dorms may be rendered obsolete.

When COVID hit in March, colleges and universities quickly got students out of the classroom and switched to online learning.

“Obviously, operationally, they were not prepared to implement what would become the social distancing norms and all the CDC practices,” says Bill Bayless, CEO of American Campus Communities on CBRE’s The Weekly Take. “And so when you go back to March, there was really a panic…”

Over the past six months, Bayless says things have stabilized, and universities have adopted CDC social distancing standards. “They have all put infrastructure in place to have the flexibility to be online when they need to be in person when they can be…,” he says. “And so while it’s certainly not business as usual, higher education is underway again. Students are achieving their educational objectives and goals. And for the most part, they are back in their college towns…”

While universities seem to have put the proper structures in place, some students still aren’t getting the message. In late September, The New York Times reported that more than 35 colleges had at least 1,000 cases of COVID.  Two hundred thirty colleges had more than 100 cases. The paper said that large university towns like La Crosse, Wis.; State College, Pa.; and Gainesville, Fla., have experienced sizable outbreaks at universities.

Jake Jarman, COO of Redstone Residential, says he has seen a surge of COVID cases among students in the last few weeks. Redstone is making an effort to educate residents about the dangers of COVID.

“We are being aggressive with our marketing campaigns to remind our residents about social distancing and good hygiene,” Jarman says. “Many of the college-aged students believe that their immune system is invulnerable to this virus.”

In some cases, student housing has seen demand increase after COVID hit. Bayless says his portfolio had 93% rent collection in April, May and June. During that time, ACC’s apartments picked up 1,000 new residents when colleges and universities told students to leave.

Bayless says older, on-campus housing, with its shared baths and kitchens, may be rendered obsolete in the future because it does not meet CDC guidelines. That should create an opportunity for companies that create modern student housing, where a pod of four students can share kitchens and can self-isolate.

“When you look at what are the real opportunities for companies like American Campus post-COVID, it is to continue and to modernize that housing,” Little says. “So, there is likely going to be a second building boom on-campus post-COVID as universities deal with the weaknesses of those products.”