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The University's decision to enter into a partnership to buy up rental properties around campus leaves us with more unsettling questions than reassuring answers about the future of housing at Penn. Penn's intentions strike us as monopolistic. And while the lucrative nature of renting to college students will keep many houses and apartments in private hands, the partnership's war chest of more than $40 million should help Penn attain significant market share between 39th and 42nd streets, the area with the highest concentration of students. Officials say their intention is to keep housing prices down for medium-income renters, many of whom will obviously be students. While we agree with that stated goal, Penn's track record is not of keeping prices down. What helps keep prices down is competition, and should Penn succeed in buying out many area landlords, there will be few competitive pressures keeping prices affordable in the long term. Perhaps the best glimpse of the future we have is Penn-owned University City Associates, which consistently receives the best quality ratings but also charges more, on average, than other landlords. However, UCA functions in a competitive market now, but may not do so in the future. Of course, University management will likely result in a higher level of service than most renters currently receive. The Trammell Crow Co. did not meet quality expectations in its two years overseeing maintenance in Penn's on-campus dormitories, but we expect it will do better than many current landlords. What attracts many students to off-campus living is its relative affordability in contrast to Penn's college houses. The least expensive on-campus housing option -- a double room in Hill, King's Court/English House or Stouffer -- costs $4,400 for this academic year. Many off-campus renters find much more accommodating single rooms for as little as $300 a month. We can only hope that the University will keep its word and maintain off-campus housing as an affordable option for its students. Given the demand for housing in University City, Penn stands to lose nothing should rental rates rise without a commensurate increase in services. Only we, the students, do.

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