For two or three days every year when July turns to August, the narrow streets of downtown Charleston become an obstacle course. Moving trucks monopolize most residential blocks, clumsily lining the curbs amid piles of junk from apartments turned inside out.
It's the routine shuffle of college students from one house to another as most rental leases turn over Aug. 1 to coincide with the school year. Full-time residents know this is what comes with the territory of living in transient urban neighborhoods within a few miles of multiple college campuses.
The College of Charleston, for instance, expects about 11,000 students for the fall semester, but the school only has the capacity to house about a third of them.
For years, that meant students would venture out into the private market to rent historic homes in residential neighborhoods downtown.
But a new trend in apartment construction could slowly be luring students out of the carriage houses and into apartment communities designed specifically for them.
New luxury apartments such as 930 NoMo on Morrison Drive and SkyGarden on Woolfe Street were built as student housing, and they're more than a step up from the traditional dormitory-style dwellings of past generations. They offer high-end furnishings, outdoor pools, fitness centers, study rooms and even tanning salons.
Plus, a sampling of recent listings of homes for rent on the peninsula showed prices per bedroom were roughly the same as those in the apartment complexes.
Will Parker, a rising senior at the College of Charleston, moved into 930 NoMo on Tuesday after living in apartments in historic properties the past two years. He said that while those places were unique, they weren't very well maintained. Plus, he felt like he was getting more for the money.
"I'm just kind of sick of living in old housing," he said. "This place is a lot more spacious, and I think it's actually cheaper."
Other developers are cashing in on the demand. Spandrel Development Partners of New York is building three new apartment complexes on the peninsula, and two of them are student housing. They're under construction now at 595 King St. and 530 Meeting St.
"College of Charleston is deficient on the amount of beds that they offer their students," said Emanuel Neuman, a co-founder of the company. "The market dictated the opportunity."
As housing prices downtown have climbed in the past decade, students have been migrating north, farther away from the College of Charleston campus.
Many have landed in the Cannonborough-Elliottborough neighborhood just below the Septima P. Clark Parkway, often thought of as the dividing line between the lower and upper peninsula.
It was a predominantly black neighborhood for most of the 20th century, but gentrification has pushed out many longtime residents and fostered in a wave of student rentals.
Marion Hawkins, president of the neighborhood association, said the mix of residents seems to be changing again, possibly as a result of the new student apartment developments.
"I’ve heard from several people in the last six months or so that different landlords who have always been able to rent to students are seeing a lot of vacancies they haven’t seen before," he said. "That kind of college rental market in the neighborhood and throughout the city seems to be softening."
He thinks that's generally a good thing. College rentals have been inflating housing prices because students tend to bunk up and split the rent per bedroom, while families have to cover the cost on two incomes at most.
"I think it’s going to free up housing stock and the rents will adjust," Hawkins said.
City Councilman Mike Seekings sees it another way.
While he agrees there needs to be more student housing for College of Charleston attendees, he thinks some of the new apartment developments are too far away from the campus, which he said doesn't help the parking shortages and traffic congestion downtown.
"We need to build some dense student housing close to the core of the campus, and manage the parking in a way that limits the number of cars on the peninsula," he said.
The problem is, there isn't much land available for new construction near the campus, and densities are restricted in that historic part of town.
"We’ve been working with the college on some different zoning categories. For instance, a student housing overlay zone, which would allow higher density for lower parking requirements," he said, adding that will require more coordination with the college to deal with the challenge of student parking.
Housing 'ridiculously overpriced'
Luxury student housing is a trend in development nationally, and for good reason. Developers can put more people in a student housing building than a traditional apartment complex of the same size because students like to live in shared units while paying individually for their own bedrooms.
Newman, of Spandrel, said only so many student housing projects can be built because there is a limited number of students on the peninsula.
"I wouldn't be concerned with an overbuilding of student apartments," he said.
Plus, not all students want to live in one of those projects.
Jack Finn and Gideon Price, rising juniors at the College of Charleston, moved out of a four-bedroom house on Bogard Street on Tuesday and into a spot a block over on Line Street.
"It's different living in a place you can call your own," Price said.
A few streets south, Haley Surface and Zainab Hussain reluctantly moved from one unit to another in a large yellow building on Smith and Vanderhorst streets, nicknamed the "Mustard Mansion," they said.
The rent, $825 a room, is about the lowest they could find. Both are paying for housing with student loans and part-time jobs.
"It's ridiculously overpriced for what it is, which is very on par with a lot of the places in Charleston," Surface said.
They said the new complexes like 930 NoMo look great compared with where they're living, but they can't afford it. Some of their friends moved to James Island and West Ashley for lower price-points — a trend not just for students but also for the local workforce.
Amy Orr, director of Business and Auxiliary Services for the College of Charleston, said more upperclassmen are choosing to stay in on-campus housing after freshman year.
"We know location is a key decision-making factor, and we suspect this increase is also due to rising market rents," she said.
Like most people trying to afford to live in downtown Charleston, many students just hope the new apartments will bring in enough supply to start lowering the rent prices throughout the area.