Student Housing Developers Gear Up For A New Normal On Campus

Real Estate

With the fall semester approaching, student housing owners and operators are taking unprecedented precautions to ensure students return to a safe and productive environment. Students are likely to find transformed spaces in on-campus housing and new normals as they start or resume their college experience.

Chicago-based CA Ventures, a leading developer and operator of off-campus student housing communities across the country, notes that its pre-leasing numbers are only 2% lower than at the same time last year for the upcoming school year. The firm believes this is indicative of students wanting a college town experience, even if they are not yet sure how their classroom instruction will be delivered. 

Michael Hales, president of CA Student Living, weighed in on the initiatives his company has implemented at its off-campus properties in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way we think about community and the way our students experience it,” he said. “CA Student Living immediately pivoted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has changed how we lease and market communities, coordinate move-ins and handle day-to-day operations.”

Hales added, “We anticipate that social distancing will continue to be part of our lives when students return to school in the fall. Our teams have been working diligently since mid-March to identify and implement creative virtual programming such as our “Random Acts of Kindness” challenge and “Making Sense of it All” campaign.”

The initiative is poised to deliver care packages to residents’ doorsteps, invite residents to virtual events, share their experiences through photo and video, and more. “We expect many of these offerings to continue even after traditional amenity spaces reopen,” said Hales.

With more than 17,000 student housing units under management by CA Student Living, Hales pointed out that the developer’s goal is to have many amenities open by the time the fall semester begins, however, they will look and operate a little differently than before to promote social distancing. 

“CA was an early adopter of proptech, and we plan to use these tools to facilitate reservations for certain spaces and monitor capacity limits, which will likely be reduced in the short term,” he explained. “Additionally, we are reconfiguring common areas, including outdoor amenities, by removing some of the furniture and spacing the remaining pieces to meet social distancing requirements.”

Fully furnished residences will include private bedrooms and in-unit bathrooms, a layout that can sufficiently adhere to social distancing guidelines.

The company has made a point to implement additional cleaning on high-touch surfaces, use electrostatic sprayers and reduce contact for packages and food pickups. Team members are also required to wear masks and gloves when entering units for walk-throughs, work orders and move-ins and move-outs. 

“In today’s world, cleaning is synonymous with safety, which is often the top concern for students and parents,” said Hales. “Best-in-class sanitization procedures are becoming as important as cameras and key fobs.”

When students return, CA Student Living plans to continue to use a variety of channels to communicate with them and their parents to ensure important information is received. 

Hales said, “We use email, social media and physical signage to provide ongoing updates about any changes affecting our communities. Whether it’s the opening or closing of amenity spaces, office hour changes or other safety measures we’re planning to implement, students and their parents can rest assured we have their health and wellness as our No. 1 focus.” 

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, CA Student Living quickly shifted to using electronic documents for all paperwork. Other changes that students should anticipate when they return to school include having an assigned time slot for move-ins. Only residents and their families will be allowed to move belongings into the apartments.

With more than 17,000 student housing units under management by CA Student Living, Hales said, “We hope that parents will have confidence in us and our ability to provide a safe place for their students to live – no matter how the universities decide to deliver classes during the fall semester. At each community, we are implementing new policies and procedures in accordance with national guidelines from the CDC and local health officials as communities start to reopen. We continue to monitor the situation and adjust accordingly.”

Veteran Silicon Valley developer Swenson has widened its collection of Northern California properties with the addition of The Grad San Jose. Across the street from San Jose State University, the property is the first high-rise student housing building in San Jose, California. 

The mixed-use, 260-unit building will include apartments and student amenities. Most floor plans are designed to give students their own private bathroom. One four-bedroom floor plan will include three bathrooms.

The Grad San Jose will include a three-story parking deck and an amenities deck above the parking deck on the back side of the high-rise building. The amenities deck will include a building with an exercise center, a swimming pool with sundeck, sports courts, picnic area and landscaping. The first floor of the high-rise will include 14,750-square-feet of retail space.

Case Swenson, president and CEO of Swenson, said that with The Grad not opening for tenants until mid-August, his company is in the enviable position of being able to respond to new updates and make changes to the opening plan for the building before students move in. 

He explained, “Creating a new best practices map as we steer our way through this process, we have taken a proactive approach to promoting wellness and comfort at The Grad by partnering with an onsite management company with years of experience in student housing. Collaborating to make informed decisions that also follow CDC, state, and county guidelines to reduce health risks, The Grad will promote social distancing, disinfect and clean common areas frequently, touch up doors and other most frequently touched surfaces and use the power of UV disinfecting in elevators and heavily traveled common areas to ensure sanitary conditions.”

Swenson said the firm is discussing the possibility of partnerships with wellness experts in the community to offer tenants breath-based or yoga classes that can help to increase their sense of well-being.  

“As we keep our eye on guidance that changes daily, we are holding off on set plans for shared amenities until we are closer to opening,” he said. “With many businesses still closed, we anticipate higher demand for onsite amenities. And while things may look a little different, our hope is to offer limited or restricted amenities so tenants can enjoy the property safely.”

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