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Missing: Hundred of students, last seen living somewhere in the vicinity of campus. If found, please convince them to return to local apartments and on-campus dorms. Want ads like this have not appeared yet in local newspapers, but if things don't change soon for Residential Living and local realtors, they just might consider placing them. According to Residential Living, the number of people living on campus declined again this year, and local realtors and off-campus living officials say the market has also been weak for apartments in West Philadelphia. To reverse the trend, realtors and Residential Living officials are trying to come up with the magic combination of accomodations and services that will lure students back to West Philadelphia. "We're all trying to get some kind of formula for putting the community back to the status it belongs," Campus Apartments General Manager Dan DeRitis said this week. According to statistics compiled by Off-Campus Living, approximately 8953 students live on-campus this year, down from about 9042 students last year. About 4326 students live in West Philadelphia now, down from 4781 last year. Meanwhile, figures for those living in Center City indicate that about 1958 students now reside across the river, up from about 1826 students last year. Officials also suspect that the number of students living in Philadelphia suburbs is also up this year, and are conducting zip code studies of students' addresses to find out. "It's a fairly soft market, so there is lots that's on the market," Off-Campus Living Director Eleni Zatz said this week. Consequently, many advertisements and want ads for empty apartments, and not missing students, are running in newspapers. Officials are somewhat baffled by the slump, although they have developed several theories. "I think it's just a fluctuation in the market and there's probably something collectively that the University and the community could do aggressively to strengthen the market," DeRitis said. "I really don't think it's recessional." Off-Campus Living, Residential Living and local realtors have met several times since the beginning of the year to try to find the reasons why fewer people are renting fewer apartments. Besides moving farther away, officials suspect students are also sharing apartments more. "I think it's probably because people have less money, but it's really an impression," Zatz said. "People just can't afford to take a one bedroom apartment -- they've got to share." She listed many other reasons for the apparent West Philadelphia exodus. "More people would probably live on campus if the place was the same and if the accomodations were the same size," Zatz explained, emphasizing that Off-Campus Living has "no vested interest" in whether students choose to live on or off campus. She cited proximity and security as two reasons students often prefer Residential Living. "But all things being equal, I think people would like to live on campus," she said. Zatz said high car insurance rates may be driving some students farther out into Delaware County and into suburbs, where premiums can be cheaper. To compensate, realtors are advertising more, trying to offer special services and ammenities to attract new tenants, and even price breaks like one month's free rent. "We've been trying a bus," DeRitis said. The bus is Campus Apartments' answer to Escort Service. The shuttle transports residents back and forth, arriving at their doorstep and playing "Dixie" to notify residents the bus has arrived. Residential Living is also considering changes, including more private bedroom space in West Campus. "We're trying to do everything we can to make on-campus as convenient as it can be for students," Residential Living Director Gigi Simeone said. "We're trying to offer as many items as possible that students would really want." Deritis said people may be responding to the extra efforts. "I think it's something that makes a statement about us, about the attempt we make . . . to provide, for lack of a better phrase, a higher form of living for tenants who want to live close to campus," DeRitis said.

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