As housing options become slim, the Columbia area is seeing a huge spike in rental prices. University of South Carolina students are doing everything they can to stay afloat. (Photos by Dylan Knichel)
Rent is on the rise nationwide, and Columbia is no exception. Many people in Richland County, especially students, are scraping by.
Inflation can be the blame – it typically is – and in this case it plays a part. With inflation being the highest it has been in decades, the cost of living nationally has skyrocketed.
But Columbia, South Carolina, has seen an increase in rent almost double the national average at more than 10% since 2022, compared to only 5% on the national scale, according to RentHub, an online real estate analytics platform. This is especially true within student housing, said Laura Twitty, co-owner of the Shandon Group rental company. And she think she knows why.
There’s just no space, Twitty said. Most off-campus student housing is completely full by the start of each semester.
“There’s a housing shortage,” she said. “There’s never an unrented student property. And so the competition’s higher.”
The housing shortage is not the only problem creating this financial burden for renters, which is typically expected in college towns like Columbia, Clemson and Tuscaloosa, Twitty said.
“The taxes are really high in Richland County for non-owner occupied properties,” she said. “And then, as you can imagine with inflation, again post-COVID, the price for repairs has skyrocketed. … If the price to repair something used to be $75 and now it’s $150 or $200, that price, somebody has to pay that bill. And a lot of times, that bill is going to get passed on to the person who’s using the property – the renter.”
Anjelita Cadena, clinical assistant professor of real estate at USC’s Darla Moore School of Business, agrees: “Young adults can’t afford to buy a new house.”
With everyone renting and nearly no one buying in the entry-level home market, it turns into an issue of supply and demand.
“The National Association of Realtors said first-time home buyers fell by 26%,” Cadena said. “So those 26% did not leave their apartments or their rentals. So the higher the demand and the lower the supply – that’s the biggest culprit in the pricing going up … on top of pricing issues with supplies and then some labor market issues.”
As a result of people not being able to afford to move out of their rentals and purchase a home, people are not seeing as many properties become available in order to meet the demand.
The combination of these factors from high property tax, inflation and housing shortages is making it tough for students, in particular, to manage their living expenses while at the same time maintaining a full course load and job.
“It’s hard sometimes – a lot of the time actually,” said Jackson Perkins, a fourth-year USC student. “Trying to find that balance of work and school and prioritizing the both of them equally is not an easy task.”
Perkins recently said he had to convert from part-time to full-time work at his job, taking away from his studies and time dedicated to schoolwork.
“I get off of work after midnight every night and am expected to have my assignments done by the next morning when I wake up for class early in the morning,” he said. “I can’t lie, it is difficult to put my all into my classes when I am constantly busy.”
Studies support what Perkins is saying, Cadena said.
“If they (students) have to work, then their grades will come down,” she said.
This is especially true for Ethan Savini, a former USC student who now attends Midlands Technical College.
“Previously, I was an all-around A student my freshman year whenever my parents covered my housing,” he said. “But, as I began my sophomore year and moved off campus, I was expected to pay my own rent along with my other bills. I had to pick up more shifts, obviously, where I was working full time along with going to classes. My grades dropped tremendously.”
Savini said he could no longer attend USC and had to transfer.
“I was so caught up on paying my bills that I no longer paid attention to my schoolwork like I should have,” Savini said. “I eventually had to drop out because my grades were no longer what they should’ve been. Transferring to Midlands, where tuition is much lower and I could complete courses online, was my only option.”
So, what is the solution? It might actually be to increase the price of rent, contrary to what people may think.
“The occupancy rate (for student housing) is so high, that tells me there’s not enough units …,” Cadena said. “Then you’re not charging enough for rent. … It’s just a rule of thumb for property managers.”
If student housing is constantly being filled with little effort, an increase in rent will create more openings. But that can’t be done without developing more housing.
Having more housing and apartments, especially those designated for students, creates more supply, eventually counterbalancing demand.
With an estimated student population of more than 35,000 in 2022 and several years of its biggest freshman classes ever, USC is working to meet students’ needs. The school is building new student housing complexes on Whaley Street in the Wheeler Hill neighborhood and in the Vista, near the Colonial Life Arena.
Jackson Perkins, a University of South Carolina senior, clocks into his fifth eight-hour shift this week as a local restaurant manager.
Perkins uses the slow part of his shift to study for an upcoming exam. With bills that need to be paid, he’s working to make a living while keeping his grades up.
The Sawyer on Lincoln leasing office. The company manages the newest student housing development coming to Columbia. The complex, slated to open in Fall 2023, will help address housing demand.