For the majority of students who live on campus, the rent is about to go up.
Under a plan approved by the university’s trustees, approximately 375 of the 540 students who live in Residence Hall One and the University Student Center will see their rent go up by 7 percent in each of the next two years and 4 percent in the fall of 2019.
That means, for example, that a single in RHO that costs $3,922 this semester will increase to $4,200 per semester in the fall, $4,490 per semester in fall 2018 and $4,680 in fall 2019 – or a cumulative annual growth rate of 6 percent. (See chart below)
An RHO single is apartment-style accommodations with four individual bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a common room.
The 165 students who live in rooms that have been reconfigured to add an extra bed or two will not see a rent increase.
The university has raised housing rates only once in the past four years, said Joe Trubacz, the university’s regional vice chancellor for administrative and financial services. During that period, several other state universities raised their rates every year.
“Housing rates are more like a rental rate and costs like electrical, utilities, and internet continue to go up,” he said. “There comes a point when we need to raise our rates to get these costs covered.”
For four decades, USF St. Petersburg was strictly a commuter school without campus housing. But that changed as the university grew in size and ambition.
RHO, which houses 340 students on seven floors, opened in 2006, and the USC residence hall, which has 200 students on five floors, opened in 2012.
In 2010, the university began contracting with the nearby Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront hotel to handle the overflow. Twenty students are living there this semester under a contract that USFSP has with the hotel.
On average, a two-person room at the Hilton costs $1,000 more than a double unit on campus in the fall semester and $2,000 more in the spring semester, which falls during the busy winter tourist season, when most hotels raise their rates.
Increasing on-campus housing is one of the university’s long-term priorities.
Research shows that campus housing improves both student retention and graduation rates, university officials said. Students feel “more connected to campus life,” with greater access to university activities, resources and faculty.
Under the university’s latest 10-year master plan, the campus would grow from its current student population of 4,725 to about 10,000 by 2025. Campus housing would increase as well.
The plan calls for additional housing for approximately 900 students that would be built in three phases.
Trubacz said the first phase, a 550-bed facility, will be built on the north side of Sixth Avenue S between Third and Fourth streets, replacing the parking lot just south of the soccer recreation field.
That building, Trubacz said, is projected to be nine floors high with dining on the first floor, housing on the next seven, and a conference center on the top floor.
Five developers are bidding for the project and will present their proposals next month. The Florida Board of Governors – the 17-member board that oversees the state’s public university system – is expected to give final approval this spring. The building is scheduled to open in 2019.
The next two proposed housing phases have not yet been approved. One would add 200 to 250 beds on the west side of the USC. The third phase would add 150 to 200 beds for upperclassmen in a building on the northeast corner of the campus just east of RHO.
That would mean that in the future, “as soon as you come from downtown, the first building you see will be upper division housing,” Trubacz said.
The rent for campus housing covers more than maintenance, electricity, cable and water, said Scott Hendershot, the university’s assistant director of housing and residence life.
“At a regular (off-campus) apartment, you’re paying for the space and that’s about all,” he said. “Living on campus you get the experience of having a residence life staff really building that community.”
Hendershot said campus housing is now at 121 percent capacity. One hundred percent means all the beds on campus are taken; the additional 21 percent comes from adding extra beds to certain rooms and using the Hilton.
“Being at 121 percent occupancy means that there is a definite need for students to live on campus,” said Hendershot, “and there’s a need for us to have more on-campus housing.
“Once people see there is an option for a more traditional residential experience, we’re going to get even more students,” said Hendershot. “It’s going to be cheaper than living downtown.”
For years, the university was within walking distance or a short drive of hundreds of small, modestly priced apartment buildings, duplexes and single-family homes that housed a number of USFSP students.
But when the city’s long-dormant downtown core began coming to life in the early 2000s, those modest housing units were gradually supplanted by high-rise condominiums and apartment buildings that dramatically drove up downtown housing prices.
For example, the 13-story Salvador condominium tower is near completion on Fifth Avenue S, just steps from RHO. Its 74 condos, now 90 percent sold, start at $350,000, according to its website.
Just up the street, at 330 Third St. S, the new 17-story AER apartment building charges monthly rents ranging from $1,795 for a studio to $3,300 for a three-bedroom, two-bath unit.
Trubacz said the university approached AER managers about getting a block of rooms for overflow student housing in an arrangement like its contract with the Hilton.
AER declined, but said it would rent to individual students who can afford it, Trubacz said.