Gameday Homes increases housing prices in southern university towns

Brandi Duncan-Herrington is well aware that affordable housing is declining in her hometown of Starkville, Mississippi.

As the Executive Director of Starkville Strong, a grassroots volunteer organization, Duncan-Herrington works with homeless residents to find them stable shelter. In other small towns in the northeastern Mississippi Golden Triangle, a three-bedroom apartment typically costs $ 600, she says. But in Starkville, it’s triple.

She attributes this to the presence of the local college in Starkville, Mississippi State University.

“We are not building more apartments for residents. It’s mainly for tourism, ”she says. “That would mean gambling dens, gambling day rentals or even college students coming here to stay. So the rent is astronomical because they intend that there will be two families, or two or three students, who will share the price.

Gambling houses, investment properties where foreigners stay for football games and nothing else contribute to rising housing costs for permanent residents in southern college towns like Starkville, according to a new study.

“It’s absolutely something that exists elsewhere,” says Taylor Shelton, assistant professor of geosciences at Georgia State University and author of the study. “But it seems that depending on the size, the relative isolation of some college towns in the South, and then the particular cultural importance of college football, these are the places where this phenomenon is really most prominent. “

Shelton moved to Starkville in 2017 to work in the state of Mississippi. As he walked around his neighborhood, he noticed condo developments where the lights never seemed to be on and discovered that many were gambling dens, used on a minimal basis most of the time.

Starkville is Shelton’s case study. Between 5 and 10 percent of all housing units in Starkville are likely gambling dens, he estimates. In some neighborhoods, more than 75% of housing is only used on the six weekends a year when college football teams play at home.

Data on gambling dens is hard to come by. Shelton identified these homes by analyzing US Census data for vacant properties and local data on residential properties where the owner lives outside of Starkville. He found that Starkville only had 175 Airbnb listings, but its lowest estimate for alleged gambling houses is 663.

These accommodations affect the costs for long-term residents. From 2010 to 2020, the median selling price of homes in Oktibbeha County in Starkville increased by 63%, more than double the rate of growth in home values ​​and also exceeding inflation and income growth. , according to Shelton’s study. A majority of this price growth occurred during the gambling house development boom.

Gambling houses are on the rise in southern university towns. Shelton looked at 13 cities in addition to Starkville, including Athens, Georgia (home of the University of Georgia), Gainesville, Florida (home of the University of Florida) and Auburn, Alabama (home of Auburn University) . But Starkville has a particular glut of gambling dens. In the past 15 years, almost all of the net growth in housing units has included vacant properties, many of which are believed to be second homes, according to the study.

Shelton also says that gambling dens are concentrated in the limited number of pedestrianized neighborhoods in Starkville.

The effects of gambling dens are similar to short-term rentals like Airbnb, but the nature of gambling dens is different, he says. They are concentrated in smaller towns, either without a large supply of housing, or in neighboring towns to absorb the demand for housing.

Duncan-Herrington is not surprised by the prevalence of gambling dens in Starkville.

“Our city only thrives because of the university… So with that, our tourism and our apartments under construction and our condos getting their permits and increasing are geared towards this influx of money,” she says. “On the other hand, I would like these people to be aware that there is a community of people who live here and who are underserved while they line their pockets.”

She adds that if people were more aware of Starkville’s housing issues, maybe they could find a way to give back.

Shelton calls for local regulations to ensure that gambling dens do not increase housing prices for residents. Big cities like New York and Vancouver have been successful in taxing vacant properties, he says.

In 2019, after months of public comment and controversy, Starkville has filed a proposal to regulate short-term rentals. Shelton says he tried to convince the alderman who made the proposal to focus on the day houses, but it came to nothing.

“Almost any regulation of housing issues in places like these, especially in the South, is primarily a political no-start,” he says, adding that state-level regulations often prohibit more regulations. strict tenant-owners at the municipal level.

Shelton says cities like to collect property taxes on gambling dens because they are assessed at a higher value. The local government must also provide minimal services as the owners do not use a lot of water and electricity and do not enroll their children in the school district.

“It’s a good deal in some ways, just from a budgetary point of view, but there are these other effects that are not really taken into account and I think a lot of people who live in these places are well aware of it. “he said. . “What cities need to focus on is how they can address housing market concerns or quality of life issues that arise from prime housing in the city remaining vacant the vast majority of the time. and do not contribute in any way to the quality of life and the experience of the people who choose to make these places their home.

Meanwhile, Starkville Strong plans to hold a housing meeting by the end of the summer with the city government and influential people and organizations in the community.

The housing problem does not get any easier. Brookville Garden Apartments is one of the few places that offers affordable accommodation. In May, the city ordered the demolition of three of the buildings in the complex because it considered them a “threat” to public health, safety and welfare. This has displaced residents from affordable housing.

“I’m in this active phase where I try to be proactive rather than reactive,” says Duncan-Herrington. “But I can’t keep up with the demand.”

Adina Solomon is an Atlanta-based freelance journalist. She writes on a range of subjects with specialties in city design, business and death. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, CityLab, US News & World Report, and other national and local media.

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