The Savannah College of Art and Design is planning on turning this apartment complex along Victory Street into student housing, in addition to constructing two new student housing complexes to the west between Barnard and Montgomery streets. [Eric Curl/Savannahnow.com] Hide caption
Remember when Savannah College of Art and Design students and myriad other folks rented cheap apartments throughout the Landmark Historic District?
Sure, there are still SCAD students living in the heart of downtown, but various trends have changed the landscape for student housing.
Since the late 1900s, some downtown units have been turned into condos with year-round residents, and many have been converted to short-term vacation rentals.
When I moved to Thomas Square south of Forsyth Park in 1996, few students lived on nearby blocks, but once a few students moved into the neighborhood, others quickly followed.
Now there are other competitors in the market. On the fringes of downtown, new apartment buildings have been designed to attract college students, although the developers haven’t always been up front about the importance of the college market.
SCAD has also expanded its own residential offerings for the 10,000-plus students in Savannah.
The college has added hundreds of rooms to the sprawling dorm complex near the base of the bridge, and about 300 SCAD students live in the “apartment-style” Barnard Village near the Gulfstream Center for Design and Montgomery Hall.
The college also acquired the private development One West Victory and renamed it Victory Village.
As regular readers of this newspaper know, Savannah City Council recently green-lighted the expansion of Victory Village with a large dorm spanning from Barnard to Montgomery streets on the south side of Victory Drive.
It will be interesting to see if the new dorm on Victory Drive signals a sustained effort by SCAD to compete against the private apartment developers. Or maybe the college will continue to grow, which could mean plenty of demand for new housing both on and off campus.
In theory, the creation of so many new units should put downward pressure on prices for many rental units in the downtown area.
Again, in theory, the ripple effects should be felt in the rental market throughout the Savannah area, which should be good news for renters struggling to find affordable units in cost-efficient locations.
The problem with these theories is that many of the newer units in the downtown area rent for considerably more than metro area average.
Middle class and working class renters who work in the downtown are often forced to look for apartments in areas where transportation costs will be much higher. This is problematic, especially for the service industry workers who fuel Savannah’s booming tourism.
The Savannah economy will benefit from the increased residential density in the downtown area, but the current trends highlight the need for a sustained effort to create affordable housing in the city’s heart.
City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.