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Our view: Residency requirement could aid area

The plan at Northern Illinois University to require students to live in campus housing for their freshman and sophomore years will have consequences, both intended and unintended.

If the requirement works as expected and helps increase student retention at NIU, then the positives for the community should outweigh the negatives.

It’s not that concerns about the new rule voiced by the DeKalb Area Rental Association, which represents local landlords, are unfounded. The loss of an entire class of students from the rental market could increase the percentage of vacant rental properties in DeKalb.

Will Heinisch, the president of DARA, estimated that the vacancy rate could increase from the 8 to 10 percent level to 12 to 13 percent when the rule goes into effect.

That could have some effect on bottom lines of some landlords, particularly those whose properties are not well-maintained.

The change also has the potential to effect patterns in shopping behavior, as fewer students living off-campus means fewer people making trips to area grocery stores, and other businesses near neighborhoods dominated by student housing could see some marginal drop-off in business.

But the new residency requirement should be an overall positive for the area, potentially even for the local rental market.

The university’s goal is to improve its retention rate, and data suggest that requiring students to live on campus as sophomores can help ensure more of them return as juniors. Better student retention is good for NIU, and by extension, the area in general.

Requiring students to live in dorms might also help encourage more of them to stay in the area, rather than leaving for their parents’ homes in the Chicago suburbs on weekends. Keeping a vehicle is more difficult for dorm-dwellers than apartment dwellers, so the requirement could be helpful in that way as well.

What’s more, the residency requirement could help with one of the city of DeKalb’s goals, too: Improving the quality of rental housing.

As landlords themselves acknowledge, it’s not the owners of the nicer properties who stand to be hurt by the change – their properties are always the first to be rented. Heightened competition could lead landlords to improve their offerings, or elect to sell them to someone who will.

The effect of the change at NIU won’t be felt until fall 2015, the first class at NIU expected to be subject to the new residency requirement.

Landlords and anyone else who think their business could be effected by the change have until then to contemplate their strategy on how to compete in a slightly different market, one which could have a diminished pool of renters – at least in the short term.

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