How should cities address college student "slums"?

Collin Slowey

I live in a place (Bryan/College Station, TX) where the main industry is a university (Texas A&M). College students make up a huge proportion of the population.

We have a recurring problem in which developers will up-zone whole neighborhoods from single-family homes to larger, student-focused group homes. Property values will drop in those neighborhoods, and they will become "student ghettoes" or "student slums."

From a Strong Towns perspective, I feel I should approve of incremental, lot-by-lot up-zoning, since it's a better way to house people than creating sprawling apartment complexes or block-sized mid-rises. But in this case, it seems to have negative effects. The large group houses are ugly and shoddily built (especially compared to the houses they've replaced), and they encourage poor caretaking from the students, whom nobody wants to live next to as a consequence. But because few families' incomes can match the combined resources of a bunch of students, there seems to be no market recourse.

What can be done to address this that doesn't involve rigid zoning requirements or NIMBYish neighborhood associations?



  • Comment author
    Rodney Rutherford

    What you're describing seems surprising on a few fronts. Could you give some specific examples?

    In my experience, upzoning is typically executed by the city across a broad area.

    Upzoning individual lots is often considered to be 'spot zoning', which is generally discouraged, and legally dicey. An individual might request that the city upzone a particular lot which they own (or on which they have an option to buy), but ultimately the city would decide when/where an upzone occurs, and should consider if other nearby lots should also be upzoned along with the requested lot.

    My understanding of "enabling incremental change" (in the context of Strong Towns ideals) is to allow for the next increment of intensity to be built anywhere in any neighborhood. One way to implement this is through a form-based code, as that will primarily regulate building form and (secondarily) the intensity of use, often according to a regulating plan that identifies the allowed intensity/forms in each area.

  • Comment author
    Zane Bishop

    We also deal with this in Muncie, Indiana (pop. 69k) with Ball State University (enrl. 21k). Something that seems to have helped in recent years is higher-density housing in specific zones close to campus, though it was too late, as both many other formerly-diverse areas near campus are now 'student slums' and also many complex got built out on the fringes of the City, where those students largely drive to our could-be-walkable campus.


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