After Colton Green’s landlord informed him and his roommates a month ago that he was increasing their home’s rent by $500, Green, a junior environmental science and policy major, realized that the new lease was out of his price range.
The resulting search for a house hasn’t been easy for him, he said, with the median rental price in Orange up 6.6 percent since May 2016, according to data from real estate website Trulia.
“The day after I told my landlord that I wanted to live (in the same house) next year – because he told me and my roommates that he wanted an answer as to whether we were going to live there or not – and then he raised it right after I told him, ‘Yes,’” Green said. “So then I had to immediately decide, and I ultimately decided against it. It was really rushed.”
Green is not the only Chapman student experiencing difficulty when it comes to finding an affordable off-campus rental near Chapman.
Rising rent prices in Orange have some Chapman students concerned about whether they will be able to afford leases within walking distance of campus. Projections from the 2016 University of Southern California Casden Real Estate Economics Forecast show that rent prices in Orange County are expected to further increase by as much as 9.4 percent through 2019.
President Daniele Struppa and other Chapman administrators believe that requiring freshman and sophomore students to live on campus could help limit the increase of off-campus rent prices in Orange. The theory is that fewer students vying for local off-campus housing will decrease demand, which would drive down rent prices, Struppa said.
“It’s difficult, because obviously we have no control whatsoever on what (landlords) charge students,” Struppa said. “It’s a free market. The city doesn’t even have control over it. The pricing issue is always one of demand and supply. What we’ve done is told the city (of Orange) that we want to go from 38 percent to 50 percent (of students living on campus). That would decrease a little bit of the pressure.”
Orange County has the 10th highest rent prices of major metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to data from real estate analysis group Reis, Inc. Orange has an average monthly rent of $2,090, according to ApartmentList.com.
“Members of the real estate community – meaning the different real estate companies that operate in Orange – all talk to one another,” said City Councilman Mike Alvarez. “So they know that there’s a demand out there (for off-campus student housing), so as the year goes on and something comes up, they’re going to ask for a higher price, just to see if they can get it. On the other side of the coin, there’s really nothing the city can do as far as having some sort of rent control, because rent control doesn’t really exist in Orange County. It’s always an issue.”
Junior screen acting major Luis Santos, an out-of-state student from Florida, and his roommate moved into an apartment a few miles from campus after they were unable to find a home to rent within their price range in time for the fall semester.
“We’re in that period again, looking for a place, but it’s really hard because there are so many students looking for the same thing,” Santos said. “A lot of the listed houses we’ve contacted are taken. It’s been a little difficult, but hopefully we’ll find something soon. It’s just difficult to find anything close to campus that is below $1,000 per person.”
As of June 2016, on a per-city basis, Orange and Anaheim had the highest year-to-year increase in rent prices, at $522 each. On a month-to-month basis, the average apartment rent in Orange experienced the largest increase in Orange County, rising by $268.
Vice Chancellor of Student Enrollment Mike Pelly said that, although he knows of many Orange landlords that charge fair prices, many of the higher-priced homes in Orange are owned by a handful of prominent landlords who do not live in Orange. Pelly said that he is wary of landlords collecting properties near Chapman “purely at an investment incentive.”
“I’ve heard of a woman who owns something like 60 houses in Orange,” Pelly said. “She’s not local to Orange. Landlords from all over the place know now that the demand is here, especially in the areas close to campus and the (Orange) Plaza.”
The Panther reached out to two landlords who rent to students in Orange, but neither would comment.
Alvarez said that the Orange City Council has not seriously pursued legislation to curb rent prices, because there has not been high public demand for it. The last time rent control was discussed at a city council meeting was in 1994.
“Right now, if the students are getting high rents, there’s nothing we can do, because there is no legal vehicle to bring the landlords, students and city together to say, ‘You’re charging too much,’” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said that a “boarding house ordinance” is a potential alternative to rent control that other Orange County cities, like Lake Forest, have implemented.
This type of ordinance is a program that allows landlords to register student tenants, which Alvarez said would not only ensure that students behave, but also that landlords do not overcharge students on rent.
“We were looking at a boarding house ordinance when we thought (rent price spikes) might be a problem in Orange eight or so years ago,” Alvarez said. “It would kind of address a lot of these problems.”
Alvarez said that the city council ultimately decided against pursuing this type of boarding house ordinance because its registration process would require gathering “a lot of personal information” from tenants. Although the ordinance could deal with rent-related issues, Alvarez said, the city council has not pursued the ordinance since it was dropped originally.
Pelly said that this type of ordinance would be “a very tough thing.”
“I’m not even sure how the city would realistically be able to enforce that,” Pelly said.
For now, the university’s focus is adding more dorms to decrease the number of students competing for off-campus housing. A new residence hall, located at a historic packinghouse site on Cypress Street and Palm Avenue, will provide 402 beds for students and is expected to be completed by fall 2020 or 2021.
Struppa said that continuing to add more on-campus housing will be a priority for the university.
“One of the things that we would like to try to do over the next few years is to build significant new student housing where Panther Village is now,” Struppa said. “We are in discussions with the board on how we are going to fund the construction of a really large structure (across from Panther Village).”
Provost Glenn Pfeiffer said that 38 percent of students are living on campus this year. The new residence hall would allow approximately 44.5 percent of students to live on campus, according to numbers provided by Robert Pankey, the assistant director of institutional research.
Avoiding isolation from on-campus activities is a factor for some students who want to live closer to the university.
“Hopefully, we will be able to move closer and get more of that ‘college’ feel, like with other Chapman students living with us, instead of how it is now, which is always just, ‘Later, guys, have fun,’” Santos said.
Not even the Struppas are immune to the Chapman off-campus housing dilemma.
“My daugher is in the dorms right now, but next year, she’s going to go live with friends (off-campus),” Struppa said. “She told me that (the house) isn’t within walking distance from campus and that she will have to commute with her friends.”