It’s easy to envision the stereotypical college apartment: they’re somewhat affordable, small and offer us our first glimpse into life as an adult. Sometimes, they may even be falling apart at the seams. Blacksburg apartments are no exception — students can often feel like they’re forced to choose between living somewhere affordable and somewhere actually worth living in.
We can all agree that The Retreat is beautiful. The rooms are spacious and there’s plenty of room in most houses for social gatherings — pre-COVID-19, of course. The Hub is luxurious; where else could a college student live where they have access to hot tubs and private balconies? Other places in Blacksburg run the gamut from The Retreat's spaciousness to being more akin to a closet.
I, like many others, live in one of the more modest complexes in a relatively small townhouse on the other side of Prices Fork Road. My countertop is a weird mid-century green color, my cabinets don’t match and the paint used on the walls could contain lead (although we’re told it has been removed). I don’t pay a lot for it, so it’s exactly what I need; however, it leaves much to be desired, especially when compared to some of the other housing units in town.
Blacksburg and much of the Appalachian region benefits heavily from the revenue generated by Virginia Tech’s students, and the campus is widely regarded as a major economic driver for Southwest Virginia. While the school is unquestionably good for the region in many respects, its impact is not always a positive one, especially for the local people of Blacksburg. For them, the housing experience may be a bit different.
On paper, Blacksburg’s median income is smaller than that of its neighbors, but paradoxically, its housing prices are much higher. This is due mostly to the students who live off campus. Many locals maintain that Blacksburg landlords will not hesitate to raise their rent prices if they anticipate that students are willing to pay more, which becomes problematic for local residents competing for the same housing.
This problem became so profound that Virginia Delegate Chris Hurst decided to introduce a bill that would limit student housing options throughout the city of Blacksburg. It could be argued that this is not the ideal solution (and the argument would be a successful one considering the bill was never passed); however, the bill does serve to highlight some of the major problems created by Blacksburg’s expanding development.
Students and Blacksburg locals have found themselves increasingly at odds over the town’s future. Virginia Tech plans to continue growing undergraduate enrollment for the foreseeable future. As this happens, locals will continue to be pushed aside by the expanding campus and by students looking to move off campus.
This problem is not an easy one to solve. However, a potential root of the issue is landlords’ insistence on building and expanding their apartments into places of luxury: Do students seriously need to live somewhere like The Retreat, the soon-to-be-open Hub or the other luxury apartments that routinely rent for upwards of $1000 a month? Does a college student need an Olympic-sized swimming pool, hot tubs or quartz countertops? The answer is no — to thrive at Virginia Tech, we really only need minimal furnishing and reliable internet connection. Blacksburg would benefit from building apartments that meet students’ needs without the bells and whistles. Far too often do people have to choose between renting a nice place that is unreasonably priced and renting an affordable place with a mold problem; without these gaudy amenities, rent would be cheaper and both locals and students could find housing.
Virginia Tech’s administration should work with the town of Blacksburg to develop plans for the future that decrease housing prices, benefiting students and locals alike.