By Waringa Kamau
Sell or renovate; these are two options for some Lexington property owners after Washington and Lee University’s board of trustees approved a new housing policy.
Heather Hamilton, owner of H and K Properties Inc., said some property owners are thinking of taking dramatic measures to cope with the new W&L policy requiring students to live on campus for three years instead of two.
“A number of landlords are already panicking and selling their properties or at least listing them because they are worried what [the new policy] is going to do to their rental income,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton declined to offer particular names.
The W&L board of trustees cited various reasons for the policy adopted at its February meeting, including efforts to improve the university’s sense of community, safety and gender relations.
The earliest this policy can go into effect is fall 2016. This means the first students who could be be affected will enter next fall as part of the Class of 2018.
Hamilton said the new housing policy will mainly affect real estate agents who rent a majority of their property to W&L undergraduate students.
“We don’t expect a huge impact because our firm doesn’t have a large inventory of undergraduate housing; most of our students are law students,” she said.
H and K Inc. manages 170 properties in Lexington, and of those only 15 are rented by undergraduate students.
Hamilton said this new policy is good because it will increase competition among local landlords. She said this will force them to renovate and upgrade houses to make them safer.
W&L Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sidney Evans said the policy is not intended to hurt local property owners.
“The university was not unmindful of landlords, but our first priority is to our students,” she said.
Evans said that the businesses in downtown might actually benefit from the policy, which would require more students to live in university housing. She said students are more likely to be walking in the city and taking advantage of things going on in town when they live closer to downtown.
“Merchants say that they don’t see a lot of students going into downtown and that’s because students get into their cars and go out to where they live,” she said. “But if they live on campus they might actually walk into town in a way that they don’t now.”
But not everyone sees it that way.
“When you have about 400 less people renting in the area, it’s going to be a huge hit for Realtors and the downtown economy too,” Hamilton said.
Mayor Mimi Elrod, whose late husband served as the president of the university for six years, said she feels bad that there are landlords who could lose tenants, but she also understands that the university is only doing what it thinks is best for its students.
Elrod also sees this new policy as one that might change the local housing market by increasing family-owned houses.
According to the 2010 national census, there are 2,546 households in the area, 42 percent of which are rental properties.
Elrod said people in neighborhoods with a high concentration of rental property might see property sold to local families, which would change the neighbor dynamic.
Elrod said one of these neighborhoods is Diamond Hill, located behind Virginia Military Institute’s Cameron Hall basketball arena on Main Street.
“When you have a lot of rental houses it alters the fabric of the neighborhood,” Elrod said. “Living next to someone who is just renting the house for a short period of time is very different from living next door to another homeowner with children.”
Hamilton, like many other landlords in the area, is hopeful that the policy will not have severe impacts on property owners once it goes into effect.
“I hope that it doesn’t affect us too much because this is what we do for a living,” she said.