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COVID Is Accelerating a Revolution in Student Housing

Today’s newer student housing is much more modern than the old on-campus buildings with community bathrooms at the end of the hall. 

In the COVID-19 era, that’s important.

“In some instances, those functionally obsolete dorms that have the bathrooms down the hall don’t follow CDC [The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] regulations, said Jaclyn Fitts, an executive vice president at CBRE who co-leads the CBRE National Student Housing team, on CBRE’s The Weekly Take podcast.

Eventually, Fitts thinks these dorms will ultimately be taken offline and replaced with newer housing that can be functional in an environment with a dangerous virus. 

Bill Bayless, the CEO of American Campus Communities, which houses 135,000 students at 93 campuses across America, says his rent collections have been a lot stronger because his typical four-bedroom unit offers students the ability to be socially distant.

“They can quarantine,” Bayless said on CBRE’s The Weekly Take. “They can isolate. They can self-sanitize. There was no panic whatsoever.” 

In fact, ACC’s communities have attracted new residents during the pandemic. “When the universities in March and April panicked and told students to leave and the on-campus residence halls of that older quality, we actually, in the middle of an academic year, picked up a thousand new residents…,” Bayless says. “And so the modernization of student housing really helped the university. And that was part of the reason they were able to reopen this fall. They realized we have all of this great modern product.”

In the 68 markets in which he operates, Bayless says that 40 percent of the universities have dorms with older community-bath residence halls. He says there is an opportunity for ACC and other firms to modernize these facilities.  “There is likely going to be a second building boom on-campus post-COVID,” he says.

Bayless says ACC was working on on-campus communities with shared bathrooms when the pandemic hit. But the universities it was working with wanted to switch directions.

“We’ve moved away from that,” Bayless says. “And now it’s to the suite-style bathroom.”

During COVID, ACC did a facilities analysis, where the company looked at how it can change design and surfaces to provide self-sanitization. Regardless of what features new buildings will have, Bayless doesn’t think student developers “will ever approach how we design products and think about products without all the lessons we’ve learned in COVID.”

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