It’s hard to throw a stone around UTSA without hitting some kind of construction zone. The area surrounding UTSA’s Main Campus is undergoing a makeover, and luxury apartments are popping up left and right. But as UTSA’s student population stabilizes and traditional college students become more common, developers will need to turn their eyes to aver- age students and start building a diverse college community.
The Luxx, Tetro and Prado Student Living will all open their doors to students in the fall, adding three luxury communities to the patchwork of apartments around UTSA. All three will undoubtedly bring unique experiences that could not be found in and around UTSA just a year or two ago, but they will do very little to bring the UTSA community together, and they will all cater to a niche of students that prefer and can afford that particular lifestyle.
While new apartments are being constructed around cam- pus, many existing apartments remain vacant. Even University Oaks, an on-campus dorm, and the Outpost just across the street are not enticing enough to students to keep their rooms occupied. UTSA’s student population has dropped for the first time in recent memory, and combined with the exist- ing apartment shortage the addition of luxury apartments seems absurd.
One of the consequences of large apartment complexes — essentially the only hous- ing option within a reasonable distance from UTSA — is that they create a smaller commu- nity at the expense of neighbor- hood diversity. By design, many apartment complexes offer
community centers and amenities to their residents, but not to anyone else. Choosing to live near campus should mean liv- ing in a college neighborhood, not just a college apartment complex.
Although many of these apartment complexes are close to campus, they still rely on shuttles to get their residents to and from campus. Obviously UTSA has a parking problem that isn’t going away soon, but there remain very few options for students who want to go anywhere but to and from cam- pus. The UTSA neighborhood is essentially bare in terms of coffee shops, bars, restaurants and entertainment. There are far fewer houses and duplexes to rent around UTSA than there are empty rooms in the apartments around campus, a clear sign that the apartment lifestyle is not what every student wants. Building a vibrant college
community around UTSA should not just mean more large apartment complexes. These cater to a specific brand of student, and there are many more students who would prefer to live in a house or rent a duplex. A recent poll conducted by UTSA found that over 70 percent of students drive more than five miles to get to cam- pus, but enhancing the college lifestyle of the neighborhood could significantly reduce that number.
The city administration needs to change zoning for the area from multiple-family residential to single-family residential and retail in order to address the housing and living situation around UTSA. A surplus of apartment complexes and a shortage of other rental properties is a clear sign that apartment living is not for everybody, and a lack of afford- able options likely drives many students away as well. Improv- ing the neighborhood by making it more walkable would also reduce the need for cars and shuttles, and adding more college-friendly stores and shops would entice students to move closer to campus.
The neighborhood around UTSA has a housing problem, and as the university shifts away from a commuter school, developers need to respond to the change. While luxury apartments may be a piece to the puzzle that will soon make up the UTSA neighborhood, the final product must be a diverse mix that includes more afford- able options and more retail space.