Tuscaloosa apartment woes: How did we get here?

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By WVUA Digital Reporter Anneliese Taggart

In the past 20 years, the University of Alabama has nearly doubled in size and is only continuing to grow. As the fastest-growing flagship university in the country, UA recruited its largest freshmen class in history in the fall of 2021. While this growth has brought many opportunities to the campus, it does not come without a cost to the city of Tuscaloosa. Student apartment prices are soaring as new luxury apartment complexes continue to be built in close proximity to campus. With monthly rental prices climbing to up to $1,300/month per person, students are faced with large difficulties when searching for an affordable apartment near campus.

“I have personally found it very difficult to find apartments or homes near campus that are not only affordable but also have the amenities that I am looking for,” said Maddie, a UA student from Nashville. “Having a gym and pool are very convenient, but of course it drives up the prices of apartments. Every year that I have been a student at Alabama, I have seen more houses being torn down, and more luxury apartments built. I wish there was a reputable apartment complex within walking distance to campus that was not ridiculously expensive.”

As a lifelong resident of Tuscaloosa, City Council Member Lee Busby has first-hand witnessed this population growth and price escalation. As council member of District 4, Busby’s district has a unique makeup, supporting both in and outside of the university.

“My district includes about 500 permanent residents in some of the oldest, most gracious, and beautiful homes and remaining neighborhoods there are, and then what’s grown around it with a large student population concentrated in one area,” Busby said.

The past couple of decades have revealed a cycle of families moving out of the area and students moving in.

“In the past, say four years, we’ve seen large out-of-state developers who operate at a national level and have the financial backing, engineering expertise, and background to come in and buy the properties immediately adjacent to the stadium and the campus,” Busby added. “So now, all of a sudden an acre of land that used to have two small cottages now has 400 residents.”

In January 2019, the city of Tuscaloosa placed a moratorium on the construction of large apartment complexes of 200 bedrooms or more. This moratorium, which has been extended to last until at least May 2022, was set in place to provide the city with more time to create plans for development and zoning.

While the moratorium may halt developers from continuing to build in the area, it may not directly impact apartment prices. As Busby said, the issue boils down to this:

“As long as students keep paying the prices of the apartments, the complexes will continue to charge their current prices,” Busby said. “There are affordable options, but they are not in the location or close proximity to campus that students prefer them to be.”

University of Alabama student Emily, a student from Chicago, said she’s noticed that apartment prices aren’t a concern for a certain population of the student body.

“As a student who has a job and is responsible for a large number of costs associated with college, I cannot afford an expensive apartment, or a majority of the apartments and homes available near campus – even the on-campus housing is very pricey,” Emily said.

The population of UA and the city of Tuscaloosa is projected for continued growth. As more students enroll and continue to pay the high prices of apartments,  they will continue to be faced with the decision of living affordably far from campus or paying top dollar to live within walking distance to classes.

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