- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

When Ed Solomon first moved into the Burleith neighborhood of Northwest more than 20 years ago, students from nearby Georgetown University were one of the characteristics of this comfortable neighborhood of 1920s row houses and tree-lined streets.

“Some blocks were 80 percent students,” says Mr. Solomon, a past president of the Burleith Citizens Association who serves as chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Committee 2E, the area that comprises the neighborhoods around Georgetown most affected by student housing.

“Some neighbors even had to move because they could not deal with the noise and level of abuse from students,” Mr. Solomon says.

Fears that college students will overrun the neighborhood and depress home prices are legion in city neighborhoods and small towns throughout the country.

But reports of the demise of home values, particularly in upscale neighborhoods such as the ones that surround Georgetown and George Washington University, are greatly exaggerated, says Dale Mattison, a broker with Long & Foster’s Chevy Chase office and the father of a college student.

“If anything, prices are based on turnover,” he says. “I think the concern is more perception than reality.”

Still, the presence of students in the neighborhood can be of ample concern for nearby homeowners. For one thing, there’s the noise factor.

“Anytime you have a neighborhood with students living close to a university, there’s going to be an impact,” Mr. Solomon says.

University officials are frequently called to account by neighborhood residents for other issues, as well, including parking, trash and even rudeness.

For some students away from home for the first time, that eight- or nine-month lease can be seen as a license to party, which conflicts with the priorities of neighboring families and young professionals who have to get up early the next day.

“Some students have parties that start at 10 p.m. and go on until 4 in the morning,” Mr. Solomon says.

Recently, residents in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood in the District, which surrounds George Washington University, blocked university attempts to expand university housing. Similar resistance to university expansion has occurred in other areas, as well.

Residents fear that university expansion will alter the character of surrounding neighborhoods, a particularly keen issue in historic neighborhoods.

For their part, local colleges and universities are expending a lot more time and resources at keeping neighborhood residents happy.

“Without question, community representatives and the university have engaged in far more collaborative efforts to address neighborhood issues than ever before,” says Jeanne Lord, associate vice president for student affairs at Georgetown University. “Sanctions on students are significant.”

Residents appreciate the changes, Mr. Solomon says.

“The most important part of all this is communication,” he says. “You need to have honest and open dialogue to be held on a regular basis. It’s a problem that’s never going to be solved, but it has to be managed.”

Area schools are doing the one thing that’s almost guaranteed to keep those off-campus parties to a minimum: They’re taking students out of the neighborhoods and putting them back on campus.

“The vast majority of our students live on campus,” says Brian Hamluk, director of off-campus affairs and drug and alcohol education at George Washington University, which has built a number of units in recent years.

Compare that to just four years ago, when only about half of GWU undergraduates lived on campus.

The West Georgetown and Burleith neighborhoods are particularly affected by students because so many prefer to live in concentrated blocks close to school. Students from other area colleges, including Catholic and Trinity universities, tend to disperse throughout a larger area, although residents in Brookland occasionally complain about student noise, trash and other issues.

Even GWU students are dispersed well beyond the confines of Foggy Bottom.

Like many colleges and universities, GWU is building dorms at “an accelerated pace,” says Michael Akin, director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom-West End affairs at GWU.

These are not ordinary dorms but deluxe models with all the amenities. Many have dishwashers and washer/dryers in the individual units.

“They’re increasingly popular with our students,” Mr. Hamluk says. “Things such as high-speed Internet, food service and the presence of an immediate community of peers are all draws.”

The numbers of off-campus students are also dropping at Georgetown, where in the 1995-96 academic year, 876 students lived off-campus, compared with 1,200 in 2004-05, according to Mrs. Lord.

Another thing that makes on-campus living more desirable is that off-campus students are frequently finding that the housing they want, in close proximity to the campus, is no longer affordable.

“Our students are encountering high rents,” Mrs. Lord says. “Three to four thousand dollars a month for quite a modest house is not uncommon.”

Meanwhile, colleges and universities are increasingly finding that boorish student behavior in the neighborhoods is not something they can afford, either.

Neighborhood residents often play an adversarial role at neighborhood and zoning meetings, often successfully blocking university expansion and forcing schools to alter their long-term plans.

“We want students to see that their behavior has consequences for themselves and for the university, as well,” Mrs. Lord says.

Area universities are taking increasingly proactive steps to deal with neighborhood complaints about their off-campus students.

At Georgetown, for example, complaining neighbors can call a 24-hour hot line to report egregious behavior. A similar hot line exists at George Washington University. Reports involve visits from metropolitan or campus police and residence life officials to the offending homes, as well as follow-up calls to the neighborhood resident involved.

“We stress repeatedly that we expect our students to respect themselves and the university,” Mrs. Lord says. “We’re working to increase understanding among our students about behaving thoughtfully and respectfully.”

Meanwhile, Georgetown’s office of off-campus student life conducts regular inspections of student housing in West Georgetown and Burleith.

Area universities are also scheduling regular meetings with neighborhood residents, university officials and students to discuss their concerns.

The Friends Group at George Washington University, which began in 2002 with just nine attendees, now holds monthly meetings regularly attended by upward of 65 people.

George Washington University students are also held to a code of conduct that is in force 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and functions regardless of whether a student is on or off campus.

“We feel that being a GW student is a privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility,” Mr. Hamluk says.

Officials from both GU and GWU have noted that relations with neighborhoods have improved since the recent measures were implemented.

Better town-gown relations are just one reason why investors may be interested in second properties with a strong student presence. Return on investment is another, particularly because one house may have four, five or even six renters.

According to the 2005 National Association of Realtors profile of second-home buyers, 23 percent of all homes sold last year were purchased as investment properties.

Some 36 percent of all home sales last year were second-home purchases, which included vacation properties and retirement homes, along with investment properties, the NAR reports.

And even with the increase in mortgage rates, financing is still fairly easy, particularly for those who can afford a second property in the first place.

Some parents, such as Mr. Mattison, consider purchasing that second home as a place for their student to stay during their college years.

“We’re looking at real estate,” he says, “and I do occasionally have clients who are interested in a second home for that purpose.”

If that’s the case, here are a few things you might want to consider:

m Because many colleges restrict freshmen or even freshmen and sophomores to living on campus, parents may want to get the property going before their child is ready to move in, leaving that crucial window of appreciation open a little longer.

m Taking on a property with more bedrooms than you need allows your child to take in some housemates and you to receive a little extra income.

m Proximity to campus is key. A property too far away may make it difficult for your child to make an early morning class or even to go in at all. After all, you don’t want to find your student’s four-year stay has transformed into five or seven years if you don’t have to.

For investment homeowners, a number of factors can help ensure an adequate return on investment:

• Rent increases regularly as the student population changes, particularly in the Washington area, where market levels continue to rise.

• Buyer knowledge of guaranteed income in an area with a lot of student housing makes the property easy to sell.

• Well-maintained properties, which are particularly crucial in student areas, help keep the neighbors happy and help you deal with crushing repair bills when the current crop of students leaves.

Other factors are not so certain.

Increasing housing costs, particularly in upscale neighborhoods, may be keeping investors away.

One of the reasons for the diminished volume of complaints in Burleith, Mr. Solomon says, stems from the simple reason that fewer students live there.

“More of our homes are owner-occupied,” he says. “Now costs are so high, it’s no longer economically feasible for landlords.”

Meanwhile, the presence of a college or university can be a boon for homeowners.

“Property values have skyrocketed because of the university,” GWU’s Mr. Hamluk says. “There are safety patrols, enhanced lighting, not to mention the arts and culture opportunities.”

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