Mayor Walt Maddox’s appointment of the Student Rental
Housing Task Force in June highlighted growing public
concern over the recent prevalence of housing construction in
Tuscaloosa. The task force, which Maddox established by
executive order, specifically examined the possible
overbuilding of off-campus student housing units.
“Executive order is done in cases of significance, and we felt
that this is a significant issue,” Maddox said. “We wanted to
make sure that the community knew we were taking it
A diverse set of representatives comprised the 19-member
panel, including City Planner John McConnell and Julie
Elmore, assistant director of off-campus and greek housing at the University of Alabama. The committee also included student representative Madalyn Vaughn, then senior adviser to the president of the Student Government Association at the University of Alabama, and Robert Reynolds, chairman of the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission and the Original City Association historical society. The panel met twice a week in 2013, from August to November.
“The task force consisted of everyone from university employees, architects, homeowners, builders and more. Everyone on the task force had the common interest of wanting a thriving Tuscaloosa, and I believe we all
focused on this goal throughout the process,” Vaughn said.
The committee's goals also included encouraging more development near the university to foster more
pedestrian and walkability components in the community, Maddox said.
The panel invited various experts and community members to meetings to offer their insights on the student
housing market, including former property manager and real estate agent Jim Andrews, publisher of
Tuscaloosa Apartment Guide. Other consultants included Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson and
Planning & Zoning Commission Vice-Chairman Steven Rumsey. Discussed further below, these advisers
presented data and statistics from multiple studies on local occupancy rates and criminal activity to the
The research-fueled information they provided was a result of independent evaluation of the housing market,
which indicated that housing oversaturation is present and growing in Tuscaloosa. In November, the
committee concluded that non-campus based student housing had indeed slipped into an oversupply situation
and strongly urged that steps be taken to stabilize the market.
Tuscaloosa Police Department supplied the task force with crime
statistics from 2012 based on data from eight off-campus apartment
complexes. The panel extensively reviewed the statistics, which
indicated that some student housing complexes reported one crime for
every two bedrooms.
Chief of Police Steve Anderson presented the statistics, as well as his personal observations on criminal activity in off-campus student complexes. He said that local police are primarily concerned with drug use and sales in student apartments, which frequently become targets for crime.
AL.com offered five key points from Anderson’s data:
1. “In the Bent Tree and Campus Way apartment complexes, statistics show that there was one crime reported for every two bedrooms in the complex in 2012.
2. Of the eight complexes examined, the most crimes were reported at the Retreat at Lake Tamaha, where there were 464 incidents reported in the complex, which is home to a little more than 1,300 bedrooms.
3. Three of the complexes examined were neither fenced in or gated. Two of those complexes, Bent Tree and Campus Way, had the highest reported crime rate. Anderson said gates, fences, cameras and security guards were the best deterrents for crime in complexes.
4. At the Campus Way apartment complex, 46 serious crimes were reported, one for every fifteen bedrooms. That was the highest crime rate of the eight places analyzed. TPD qualified serious crimes as burglary, gun crimes, drug crimes, homicides, robberies, rapes and the theft or breaking and entering of a vehicle.
5. Seven of the eight complexes employ at least one security guard on the premises. The only one that does not, Court Woods Apartments, was the smallest complex examined.”
Anderson said that crime is more rare when management proactively works with local authorities and cooperates during investigations, the report stated. He asserted that aggregating students into mega complexes invites crime in two ways: residents become popular targets for property crime, and the large number of students encourages negative group behavior that individual students may not otherwise demonstrate.
Housing complexes eventually deteriorate as students move from older to newer and nicer units, the report stated. As this occurs, more non-students move in, some sent by the Housing Authority. This places a significant strain in costs on social service networks, including fire and police departments, welfare, public schools, etc.
Jim Andrews, publisher of Tuscaloosa Apartment Guide, also presented information and personal observations to the task force. He suggested that occupancy rates for traditional, multi-family units are dropping.
He indicated that the 2013 Tuscaloosa rental market was at a 94.5 percent occupancy rate. In 2012, occupancy rates were at 97 percent, and they could drop as low as 90 percent this year.
Additionally, two apartment complex managers told of their growing struggle to fill their units with students each year, The Tuscaloosa News reported. In another study, real estate forecasters predicted the glut of student complexes will not stop until action is taken.
“They want to get in, get it while it’s hot and think about housing later,” Councilman Burrell Odom said. “Right now, I believe we’re at good numbers. Let’s stop building.”
Maddox stated that the housing market will face more significant obstacles in 2015 and 2016, when construction is completed on other developments that have already been approved by the city.
Task force Chairman Bill Wright added that student housing complexes are already struggling to fill their units, and thousands of additional rooms will flood the market as soon as the construction of these complexes
is finished, the report stated. Already, complexes are offering incentives, such as free iPads, free TVs and lower rents, just to fill their rooms, and these are warning signs, he said.
The student population is also cause for concern. The unprecedented growth of the housing market in the last decade has mirrored the unprecedented growth of student enrollment, AL.com reported. However, this growth cannot be sustained, said a University of Alabama representative. University spokesman Chris Bryant said that continued growth is expected at UA, but at a slower pace than in recent years.
Andrews said that the construction rate of student housing developments in Tuscaloosa is among the highest in the nation, The Crimson White reported. Between 5,000 and 7,000 beds will be added to the market in the next two years.
The Original City Association, one of Tuscaloosa’s premier historical societies, expressed concern over the long-term impact of student housing developments in the area, specifically pertaining to neighborhoods of historical significance, said OCA vice president Kelly Fitts. The OCA acts as a representative organization for the families and individuals who live in the downtown neighborhoods of Tuscaloosa.
Neglecting occupancy ordinances in the historic district has the potential to strain the area’s infrastructure particularly sewer lines, property values and the availability of parking she added.
“We welcome all renters who abide by occupancy limits,” Fitts said. The OCA posted signs throughout the historic district notifying student renters of the occupancy ordinances, as many are not aware of them.
Tim Higgins, a member of the advocacy group Preserve Tuscaloosa, which strives to protect neighborhoods from unfit development, is also concerned about the encroaching housing construction, the Crimson White reported.
“I hope people understand preserving the historic nature of Tuscaloosa is not about being anti-development or anti-progress,” Higgins told the Crimson White. “Preservationists are calling for appropriate development and progress that celebrates and enhances our unique architectural identity.”
Aaron Head, also a member of Preserve Tuscaloosa, said that he is concerned the city is not taking into
account what students want and may in fact be using students to justify further construction. Head said that many students actually spoke out against downtown develop in the 2700 block of University Boulevard, which is designed for students, the report added.
There are inconsistencies between what students really want and what developers are saying students want, Head said.