The managers of off-campus apartment complexes in San Luis Obispo are finding themselves with a number of empty rooms for the first time ever. This is due to Cal Poly’s recent ability to provide on-campus housing to all incoming freshmen.
“It has affected us…This is the first year that I have had an empty room,” said Ruben Espino, manager of the Garfield Arms apartment complex.
There are eight one-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom apartments that have not yet been leased for fall 2009, Espino said.
While this might not seem like many empty rooms, in previous years the apartment complex had full capacity at this point in summer, Espino said
Empty rooms could mean big money losses for the apartment complex, which rents a one-bedroom apartment for $995 a month and a two-bedroom apartment for $1350 a month.
The decrease in occupancy rates for local off-campus apartment complexes came in fall 2008 with the addition of Poly Canyon Village, an on-campus housing facility.
Students have already secured their spots for on-campus housing for the fall 2009 quarter with full occupancy at 6,300 students, 2,620 of which are in Poly Canyon Village, said Preston Allen, director of housing at Cal Poly.
“We had twice as many applications as we had available rooms,” Allen said. “Once we started receiving applications, we filled up within about a month.”
In addition to sufficient on-campus housing due to budget cuts, Cal Poly enrolled 19,471 students in fall 2008, a 1.5 percent decrease from Fall 2007.
These two factors have made some off-campus apartment complexes anticipate lower occupancy rates for fall 2009 based on the number of students that leased in fall 2008.
Stenner Glen, an off-campus student housing complex, has gone from 100 percent capacity, to about 80 percent, said owner Tim Kershner.
“Now that Poly can accommodate everyone, we have gone back to single rooms. We have gone from 45 in a building to 33 in a building,” Kershner said.
One local off-campus apartment complex, Mustang Village, is noticing a change in the breakdown of students leasing apartments.
“We are getting a lot more Cuesta students than before. Because of all the budget cuts and the state of the economy, a lot more people are choosing to go to community college because it’s cheaper,” said Keona Lee, the leasing manager at Mustang Village apartments.
Local off-campus apartment complexes experiencing lower occupancy rates are turning to promotions and deals to try to entice students to choose their complex over an on-campus complex.
Prior to this year, there was never any pressure to fill up rooms. The rooms sold themselves, Espino said. The pressure to fill empty rooms is driving apartment complexes to change the way they operate.
“We now offer free Internet to all residents and for people who stay, we give them a half month free. We just started this this year,” Espino said.
This year, Mustang Village apartments created a residential life team that is comprised of students. The objective is to create a community feel like the atmosphere of on-campus housing by having social gatherings, including monthly music expos and a beginning-of-summer pool party.
In addition to trying to draw in students with activities, Mustang Village creates a big presence on campus through flyers, bulletin boards, print ads in the Mustang Daily, radio ads, direct mailers, booths during Open House, UU hours and social networking, Lee said.
While having many promotional tactics might be effective for Mustang Village, Stenner Glen does not depend on heavy advertisements.
“We rely mostly on Google. If you Googled ‘student housing,’ it will come up,” Kershner said
In addition to relying on the Internet and word of mouth, some off-campus apartments, including Stenner Glen and Garfield Arms, are supported by residents who choose to renew their leases year after year.
“Usually the upper classman choose to stay. Especially the guys,” Kershner said.
Garfield Arms finds that about 90 percent of their residents renew, so the task is to fill up the remaining 10 percent, Espino said.
An off-campus apartment’s retention rate might be a factor in lower occupancy rates.
“You need to look at retention rates. Any vacancies (in off-campus apartments) would suggest that people left (did not renew),” Allen said.