While many student housing brands have already weathered the immediate impact of COVID-19, the future of student housing in 2021 and beyond remains uncertain. We can anticipate that there will be long-term changes to the student housing landscape, but just how will COVID-19 change student housing next? Will any student housing trends return to a pre-COVID state once wide-spread vaccination and herd immunity is achieved? What new trends will emerge even as the virus’s immediate impact wanes?
Today we’re exploring those questions and making predictions for what’s next for existing communities and new student housing developments across the US.
Fewer Students Will Attend Universities
Since university enrollment was already falling before COVID-19, we can expect that the uncertainty introduced by 2020’s pandemic will only accelerate that trend. The effect will likely be even more pronounced among international students, for whom the pandemic threw into sharp relief the challenges of attending a university that’s far from home. Those challenges were further complicated by the Trump administration bringing anti-immigrant sentiment and the difficulty of getting a visa to new levels. While the Biden administration will likely reverse that trend somewhat, things still won’t be easy for international students. While many student living communities go out of their way to court international students, international students have seen how uncertain their ability to attend school in the US can be, and may respond by choosing to attend university outside of the US.
With both domestic and foreign young people less likely to enroll in American universities, student living communities will find it more difficult to maintain high occupancy rates under their current models. However, other factors may off-set that trend somewhat.
Those Who Do Attend May Opt for Off-Campus Housing
Because many universities did not accommodate students in on-campus housing during the pandemic for health and safety reasons, on-campus housing may no longer seem like a safe option for today’s undergraduate students. This means that those who do attend traditional universities may opt to live in private or university-private partnered housing communities.
Off-Campus student housing communities can take advantage of this with messaging that calls attention to the benefits of housing that is independent of university safety guidelines while also keeping them away from crowded campuses when the need arises.
Demand For Shorter, More Flexible Lease Terms Will Rise
his time of uncertainty has left many renters, students included, looking for added flexibility in their housing contracts. While many student housing communities have traditionally stuck to a 12-month lease term without the option to sublet, the student housing market may need to offer more flexible lease contracts to overcome concerns in this area.
Similarly, demand for by-the-bed leasing will also rise, but the impact of this shift will be less drastic on the market, since many student living properties already offer this payment model.
“All-Inclusive,” “Private,” and “Spacious” Will Be Big Selling Points
With the pandemic forcing students to adjust to a new student lifestyle that confines them to their apartment, we can expect to see a wave of students looking for more spacious accommodations. Likewise, a post-pandemic student will value the privacy offered by private bed and bathrooms, so students may opt to avoid shared bedrooms. Bed-bath parity will also be desired, to cut down on germ spread.
Communities that provide ample room for students to live in will be desirable—fully-equipped kitchens, in-unit washer and dryer, and spacious bedrooms will be essential—while dorm-like accommodations that offer cramped quarters without a full appliance package will be less popular.
Finally, high-speed internet included in rent will continue to rise as a major selling point, and students will likely avoid student housing that doesn’t offer high-speed internet options.
Communities without these features may be forced to renovate or risk losing out on a shrinking student renter pool.
Health-Promoting Amenities Will Come Into Vogue
As they look for new ways to entice a smaller, more hesitant renter pool, student housing communities will turn to new and upgraded amenities to generate excitement and assuage health concerns. We expect to see enhanced air purification systems, package lockers, food delivery lockers, keyless entry, and added sanitation measures become common among new developments, while existing communities may launch a wave of renovations as they work to adapt to changing sensibilities.
Similarly, we will likely see a rise in green/sustainable amenities as climate concerns coincide with a focus on health and safety. This trend had already begun before the pandemic and will likely continue as Gen Z’s already climate-conscious students have even more reason to prioritize a lifestyle that feels clean, green, and healthy for both themselves and the environment.
“Luxury” Student Living Will Rebrand
With frugally-minded Gen Z, the term “luxury” can ring a little tactless, especially as the world anticipates an economic recession that will further stratify the haves from the have-nots. While some student communities may lean into their luxury status, hoping to attract wealthy student renters, many will need to rebrand in order to appeal to a broader audience of Gen Z students looking for affordable, practical, inclusive apartment communities.
Some Student Living Properties Will Make The Shift to Multi-Family or a Blended Model
With university enrollment rates continuing to drop and virtual classes becoming more common even before COVID-19 radically altered the higher learning landscape, purpose-built student housing developments are bound to slow in 2021. Not only that, but a wave of existing student housing communities have begun making the switch to multi-family, adopting a hybrid marketing approach that targets both university students and non-student renters in order to fill vacancies.
We expect this trend to continue, prompting a wave of rebrands, website updates, digital ad campaign refreshes, and more as student housing communities work to shed their associations with the student lifestyle in order to appeal to a wider variety of prospects.