This post originally appeared as a column in The Diamondback
College Park is caught between two seemingly unbreakable vise grips. On one hand, rent both on and off the campus is ludicrous — more so each year. On the other, students have a history of disagreement with long-term city residents. Pressure builds behind my temples trying to figure out a solution.
I share this headache with the whole community — thousands of homeowners, students and community officials who could also use an Advil. The Neighborhood Stabilization and Quality of Life Workgroup’s public forums will help start important conversations, but they will only take us so far.
I have another answer: Get your friends together and buy a house.
First, let’s talk numbers. Living on the campus in a traditional dorm, you pay more than $5,000 per year for a triple or quad and even more for a single or on-campus apartment. You get a small, cramped room and a bathroom to share with almost 40 other people. You are obligated to buy a meal plan, setting you back another four or five grand for food and an eating experience that is less than stellar. But Dining Services is for another day.
Add the “incidental” expenses you incur — posters to cover up the cinder blocks, a mattress pad for your cheap twin bed, Route 1 food to supplement the bland diner experience — and your living expenses for a year and you’ll come to somewhere between $10,000 and $14,000, conservatively. On top of this, you don’t really own your room; during breaks and over the summer, you have to clear out. Bleh. What other options are there? Courtyards, South Campus Commons, the University View and The Varsity are slightly nicer but also appallingly expensive. Beds start at $623, $801, $864 and $889, respectively, and go up from there. Imagine paying $30 at the door every day — it’s that crazy.
Rent somewhere else: Parkside, University Club, Mazza Grandmarc, somewhere on Knox Road, an off-campus house, a fraternity or sorority. Maybe apply to Co-op Housing University of Maryland and help cooperative housing become a legitimate piece of the housing puzzle. Thousands of dollars of savings, if you can swing it with your parents. No matter where you go, you can’t recoup a cent of what you spend.
The alternative: You and three friends buy a house. Payments on a $300,000 mortgage with $30,000 down come to $1600 per month for more than 10 years, even with poor credit. If you split utilities and spread the down payment out over two years, you end up paying about the same per month as you would in Commons: $800.
By graduation, you become the master of your fate. You can sell and maybe start paying off those student loans. Or you can stay — housing prices are slowly rising back to pre-2008 levels. Rent to some younger students, save them hundreds a month. Win-win-win.
So maybe buying a house would help a few students with the astronomical rent, but how does this make things better for residents? Intermediaries who empathize with both sides of any dispute are immeasurably valuable. Student homeowners naturally fill this role. They have an interest in keeping the streets free of litter and maintaining relationships with their neighbors. Instead of, “Who cares, I’m just renting,” their dominant attitude is, “This is my town. I’m going to take care of it.”It won’t solve every problem. Not all students can find the cash for the down payment and qualify for a loan. Not every set of neighbors will get along. Just like any solution, it will take time and effort and will leave some issues unresolved. But it’s a start.
Buy a house. Build yourself some equity while building a sustainable, connected community in College Park.
Besides, then you’ll own a house.