Penn students are already exploring their residential options for the next school year. Price is a critically important factor for students in deciding where to live, including in whether or not to move off campus. Some students even cite the relatively low prices of off-campus houses and apartments as a primary reason for moving off campus. There are myriad ways for Penn to make on-campus housing an attractive option for students. The simplest and most important one is to lower on-campus housing costs.
On-campus rent is much higher, on average, than off-campus rent. To live on campus, students generally pay either $10,600 or $14,840 for two semesters of housing, depending on the type of room, or roughly $1,200 to $1,700 a month. Off-campus rent in a luxury apartment building like the Radian is in roughly the same range, while a more standard apartment can be as low as $700, or nearly half the cost of living on campus. For this increased cost, Penn students get better security, an RA or GA, and some dorm activities, but generally smaller rooms and kitchens. There’s little to justify this exorbitant rent, and so it’s no wonder that by senior year less than a quarter of students are still living on campus.
Penn announced a new policy over a year ago requiring undergraduate sophomores to live on campus. The policy change sparked backlash, particularly from students who choose off-campus residences with lower rent. This policy is evidence that Penn believes living on campus can be an enriching part of student life. The administration would find, if they lowered room rates, that demanding students live on campus is not necessary, as many more students would do so voluntarily.
Only 61% of sophomores currently choose to continue living on campus after freshman year. The fact that nearly half of freshman opt not to continue living on campus indicates that Penn is failing to compete with the lure of off-campus housing. Penn students are voting with their dollars, and the Penn administration needs to respond the way every other market responds: by lowering prices.
This policy would have numerous downstream effects, and a positive and important example is curtailing gentrification. As fewer Penn students pay a premium to live in the areas around campus, University City will see a decrease in the development of luxury apartment buildings that make affordable housing ever more difficult to find and a general decrease in rents overall as demand slackens.
Penn isn’t like most landlords either, as the unique dorm situation naturally makes costs lower than for a standard realtor. Penn does not pay property taxes due to its nonprofit status, and construction costs, like those for Lauder House and New College House West, often come from donors rather than from the operating budget. There’s no reason for Penn to profit further off of its students, particularly as tuition steadily increases year after year. Penn’s administration has the opportunity to make on-campus living more accessible and address the pernicious forces of gentrification, simply by lowering on-campus rent. They must take it.
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