Visualize student home ownership

Student renters of the world, arise. You have nothing to lose but your damage deposit.

by John Hoff

How will this University become one of the nation’s top three research institutions if its students are struggling for decent, affordable housing?

Many, perhaps most students live under the oppressive thumbs of greedy, neglectful landlords. We students dump hefty percentages of student loans and wage earnings into rent, buying little more than time to study and party; not always in that order.

Subsisting in fire-trap housing, surrounded by loud social events, lawns littered with beverage containers, caring about our so-called “homes” only enough to avoid losses to a damage deposit – tell me how will us miserable “rent slaves” achieve such a lofty academic goal as becoming a top three research institution?

Indeed, how will overworked “rent slaves” manage to achieve timely completion of graduate degrees, when they must constantly shove aside schoolwork in favor of earning money to pay for a temporary roof over one’s head? Rent slaves don’t even own the roof in question, but must beg for repairs if their so-called “home” starts to leak in the rain.

When you pay rent, what are you buying but days on a calendar with a ceiling over your head instead of sky and trees? Certainly you didn’t just buy yourself equity in a piece of real estate. When you are done paying rent, you will have nothing but memories and cancelled checks.

Oh, and beer cans. Those things are worth money, especially since your landlord will find a way to steal your damage deposit, anyway.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine a world where groups of grad students own a house together, pooling their money each month to pay a reasonable, affordable mortgage. Visualize groups of undergrads, probably assisted by parents, buying housing together to live in for four years, and then pass it on to the next sibling or cousin to attend the University.

“Don’t spill beer on the floor,” these student home owners will say. “We just had those parquet wood tiles refinished. For heaven’s sake, use a coaster.”

What would neighborhoods be like if filled with responsible student property owners? I picture biochemists running home microbreweries instead of rowdy keg parties, and solar panels instead of bottle-rocket battles. What would you call a neighborhood filled with people like that? Maybe you would call it “Utopia,” and the “U” would be for “University.”

In the current real estate market, such a vision could become practical. Foreclosures flood the market, some the result of mortgage fraud. This is one of the best “buyer’s markets” in many years.

This winter break, some students might want to say, “Mom, Dad, check out these great grades. Yup, I’m pretty responsible. Buy me a house in Minneapolis?”

Sure, most of these houses aren’t near the University, as a recent Daily news story revealed. (“University neighborhoods less affected by foreclosures,” by Joy Peterson) So where are the bargains? That’s right, the lovely North Side.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: Drugs, shootings, boarded-up houses. But with hundreds of properties vacant – and more hitting the market every day – a radical and positive neighborhood transformation is possible. It all depends on who buys up the empty buildings: Will it be slumlords or people excited to be homeowners for the first time?

Recently, North Side community leaders have begun to promote four solid pluses of their neighborhood: lots of community organizations, varied businesses and plenty of housing and recreation. To transform the rough and tough North Side, these leaders will need an influx of new residents with idealism, vision and energy. University students fit this bill perfectly, minus a few keg parties.

I think our University should help improve the neighborhoods of this city, possibly by helping to arrange creative home financing for students, especially students who are willing to stick around the Twin Cities for a while working on graduate degrees.

An idyllic neighborhood transformed by student homeowners – working, studying, improving their neighborhood together as owners instead of “rent slaves” would create a stronger, more stable base of scholars to push this institution forward to its laudable goal of being one of the top three research institutions in the nation.

But whether the University helps or not, this might be the time to “do your homework” and consider the benefits of home ownership over renting.

Student renters of the world, arise. You have nothing to lose but your damage deposit.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]