Living large -- the housing crisis is a gift for students

For rent sign in front of highriseThanks to the housing crisis, many students are able take advantage of living in condos, apartments and rented homes instead of dorms. It's a great way to save some cash, live with friends, and enjoy locations students otherwise couldn't afford. The housing crisis has changed the way that students view campus living.

Kiandra Trealoff saves money by renting a condo off of Loyola University Chicago's campus. Trealoff currently splits a $1,250 monthly payment with a roommate on the North side of Chicago, which ends up costing less than when she lived on Loyola's downtown campus over a year ago.

"It's a way better deal [than living on campus]. In my apartment, I have a lot more freedom without Loyola's guest policy limitations. Plus, even though apartments and condos are farther from campus, you can pick a location closer to other interests or amenities," said Trealoff, who currently lives across the parking lot from a grocery store.

The owner of the vacant units in Trealoff's building, the Kopley Group, recently decided to rent out open condo units that weren't selling (Trealoff rents from a private owner in the building). She feels that the open rooms are a frugal idea for students in the area. "Loyola gets away with upping dorm prices because they require students to live there for the first two years, but off of campus, apartments and condos compete by lowering their prices," said Trealoff. "If we [students] take advantage of the cost competition, we can save a lot of money."

Students in smaller markets aren't often as lucky. Maggie Cook attends the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and feels that apartments in her college town are overpriced because students have no choice but to rent them. "It's not the same as going to school in a larger city," said Cook, who interned in Chicago over the summer. "The majority of the renters in Madison are here for school and don't have the option of buying a house or commuting from a nearby town, so we pay whatever landlords charge."

Cook only lived on campus for her freshman year. Last year, she shared a $1,015 one-bedroom apartment with a friend. She currently lives in a $1,055 two-bedroom apartment with two roommates, which she feels is still a pretty steep price for a smaller town in Wisconsin. "I guess us Madison students don't really get to take advantage of low prices in the current housing market right now."

Despite cheap apartments and condos in bigger cities at the moment, Stacy Lombardo opted to move from her three-room apartment near campus and return to Loyola University Chicago's dorms this school year due to safety reasons. Last year, she was held up at gunpoint near her apartment, but luckily had no cash to give her attacker and left the situation unharmed. "You always think that this type of stuff would never happen to you until it does. I had some anxiety after the incident --- [including] nightmares for about two weeks and every time I turned the corner down my street, my heart would always start racing," said Lombardo.

After the incident, Lombardo's mother offered to help pay for her to move back to the dorms. Because Lombardo had paid her own rent in the past, the thought of the extra cash saved and the added safety sounded appealing at first. After doing some research however, she discovered that without her mother's help, the old apartment remains the cheaper option. Last year's apartment cost Lombardo $5,000 to $6,000 for an entire year while her new dorm will cost $9,290 for only nine months.

Despite her mother's help, she feels that financially, the dorms are still not the right choice. "Even though my mom wants me to move back and will help pay, it's a huge amount of money that is being wasted, but it is the one chance I'll probably ever have to live downtown," said Lombardo, who disagrees with her mother's view on the safety of dorms. "Mugging incidents can happen anywhere."

Unlike Lombardo, Ivan Johnston doesn't have the choice to live on campus because he attends Century College in White Bear, Minnesota. Like many community colleges, Century doesn't offer a dorm option. An apartment building near his school has rooms going for as low as $300 per month, but Johnston opts to pay $150 more to rent a room in a house farther from campus.

"Renting in St. Paul allows me to be halfway between work and school," said Johnston, who works night shifts as a security guard. "Plus, I get to live with friends who don't go to my school that I probably wouldn't see as much otherwise. Those guys are like my family, so sharing a house with them seems only natural. It's because of the low renting prices right now that we can all afford to live together."
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