How a lack of options and development is affecting Duluth's student population

Rent Burdened Duluth: Part Three

By KBJR News 1

June 6, 2012 Updated Jun 6, 2012 at 11:20 AM CDT

New city sanctions on Duluth rentals are making it harder for people to turn their single family homes into student housing. That combined with the opposition to currently proposed student-specific housing developments is putting one of Duluth's largest populations in a vulnerable position.

"I didn't have a shower handle knob for a while for like two months, so we had to use pliers to turn on our shower."

Incoming junior at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Kimmy Newton, can share a variety of rental horror stories. She says most of her friends that rent single family homes could also spew off stories of neglect and unresponsiveness.

Kimmy is in the process of moving to a house closer to campus with a landlord she knows works well with tenants, but her previous experiences living off campus have not been positive.

"They see students and they are very excited because they can get away with more than they think."

Even landlords admit that some people are taking advantage of the college students.

"Some landlords out there are charging way too much. They are racking it in off the college kids," says landlord of multiple Twin Ports properties, Kristi Ducharme.

Kristi got into the business after what she calls a frustrating experience with a landlord when she was in college.

UMD senior Kelly Kemper says she hears about a lot of this same mis-treatment today.

"I have a lot of friends that say getting a hold of their landlords and actually getting their landlords to follow through is difficult," says Kelly.

This mis-treatment of college students by landlords of single family homes is exactly why Kelly works with local government as an advocate for the small area plan. The plan would bring a mixed used development to the site of the old Woodland School.

"It will tie UMD to the outer community, draw students in, make them feel welcome, and create housing that's close to shopping centers and retail," says Kemper.

But the idea of developing the Woodland site, and other sites like the old Kenwood school, into student-geared housing makes some neighbors nervous.

Which is why many attend forums--such as the Fuse Duluth discussion at Tycoons Ale House where we caught up with Kelly-- to hear from Duluth area rental connoisseurs like Susie Lannon of Apartment and Home Advisors.

"It's a very difficult market for them. There's not a lot available, and what is available is very expensive," says Susie.

She believes a lack of quality student housing has come as a result of recently passed ordinances on new rental units.

"A lot of the neighbors of students have been complaining to the city and I think that's pushed this into happening. Because you used to be able to license your property no matter what, wherever--as long as you passed the inspection--for $250."

So like, Kimmy, many students are now not only left with high tuition and growing debt, but a house that is falling apart around them.

"Working and going to school, I should be able to live in something I feel comfortable in, and I'm not."

Mark Lambert, the developer of the Woodland School Project, and the already existent Boulder Ridge student apartments, says more developers don't build apartment complexes in Duluth because the demographics make building hard, and there is no job growth, so on paper, developers see no profit in investing in the community.