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Off-campus housing continues to be a problem in Durham

The school’s new two-year residency rule will likely strain the market even further, causing full-time residents to find creative solutions or, in some cases, move out altogether.

DURHAM- Every September, the discussion around off-campus housing for University of New Hampshire students comes back into rotation. 

With UNH’s new two-year residency rule, all freshmen and sophomore students are required to live on-campus. As a result, the already fiercely competitive market for student housing – which ramps up in the fall – could see an uptick in candidates. 

However, Durham is not just made up of college students; 12,000 non-students also call the town home. According to the 2021 Census, 50.17% of all housing units are owner-occupied, while 49.83% are rented. 

Erica Michelle is of the latter. Michelle’s family rented a home in Madbury for three years before she was told the owners wanted to sell. Madbury is a smaller, neighboring town that generally experiences similar rent rates due to its size and proximity to Durham. Since Michelle was an avid house hunter, she continuously checked the market’s availability. She already knew an affordable unit wouldn’t be an option. 

Michelle said her financial background isn’t scarred. She’s never had any lasting issues, and claims to have good credit. Likewise, her partner has been at the same employer for 25 years and has maintained great credit. Yet, landlords weren’t eager to move forward in conversations. 

Michelle had to look outside of the Oyster River School district, which serves Lee, Durham, and Madbury residents. Ultimately, she was forced to transfer her children to Dover Middle School, leaving the Durham community behind.

“It’s frustrating that all the rentals are geared towards college students or set at such a ridiculously high amount, most families can’t afford it,” she said.

Any demographic looking for housing in the district’s three towns is expected to accept the high costs of living. According to the market summary of Zumper, the average rent for a two bedroom apartment saw a 2% increase from last year, coming in at $1,675. A three bedroom apartment saw a 49% jump, the median costing $3,900. These prices do include housing configured for students, though not the units owned by Durham’s larger property managers, like Campus Flats, or University Downtown. Most properties geared towards the student population attribute their price inflation to the increased demand and an unchanging number of beds.

Julie LaNigra, a real estate agent in Portsmouth, and Scott Macdonald are homeowners who lease and orient their house to fit students’ needs. Initially, they bought the Durham home to diversify their assets. But with two of their children currently attending UNH, they jumped at the opportunity to give them a unique campus experience. That same day they saw the for sale sign, the house would be theirs by nightfall.

Their daughter currently lives in the house, located on Cowell Drive, and their son will replace her lease when she moves out in May. After both children graduate, LaNigra and Macdonald hope to continue renting to students.

Their objective is to offer more affordable rent at $850 a month per person. With three bedrooms, the rent would total over $2,500. 

However, $1,700 is the real goal. Macdonald and his late wife, Patricia, are both UNH alumni. LaNigra and Macdonald are hoping to honor her in creating a scholarship that would alleviate the cost of housing for one student every year. 

“It’s something really special, and close to my heart,” Macdonald’s daughter said. 

Macdonald hopes that both affordable rent in the area and the potential scholarship will lessen the financial strain on the community one spot at a time.

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