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The River Park apartments on Ohio University's South Green, Oct. 17, 2023, in Athens, Ohio.

The cost of living in a college town

From costly groceries to overpriced textbooks and school supplies, navigating a budget as a college student can be challenging. The burden of monthly rent and utilities only adds to the cost of living in a college town.

According to a 2021 survey by, 35% of college students said they could not afford to rent an apartment in their college town and 19% said their parents were helping them pay rent. Additionally, 44% blamed the overall real estate market in their college town. 

Maggie O’Connor is the director of property services at North America Students of Cooperation (NASCO), an alliance of group-equity housing. O’Connor explained there are a multitude of barriers that students may face when trying to find affordable rental rates in college towns. 

“The requirement to put down a significant amount of money as a security deposit, references from previous housing experiences, these are all things that are really common in the housing rental market,” O’Connor said.

Bob Prebe, the owner of Uptown Realty Group, said the market determines the rent rate. If a rental company markets a rental rate too high, they risk having an unoccupied property. On the other hand, too low of a rental rate could result in a loss of profit. 

As he explained, rental ranges in Athens are drastic. 

“You could be from $325 up to $1175 per month per bedroom, and that is an incredibly wide range,” Prebe said. 

Rental companies determine these prices by an array of factors including proximity to campus, property condition and amenities. Prebe noted that despite market conditions, there are alternative options students may find more affordable.

“Definitely looking outside the Uptown area or even outside the city or even maybe lower cost areas of the city of Athens, you could probably find something that would be considerably cheaper,” Prebe said.

If a student is seeking housing through a rental agency, Prebe suggests asking landlords numerous questions and doing research before making any definitive decisions.

“Take some time to really do your research so that you're making a good decision for you,” Prebe said.

Cooperative housing, or co-ops, is another housing option that helps students navigate a challenging rental market. NASCO works closely with the Athens Student Cooperative Organization, a group of cooperatively owned and managed houses. 

Daniel Miller, NASCO’s director of properties, said co-ops are nonprofit organizations. All the people living at a co-op work together to manage and control the property. They make decisions about who is going to move in, what rent should be set at and what the environment should be like. Typically, rent would only be raised to keep up with inflation or to make repairs on properties.

“They're also really great at keeping rents in control over time, because if the people who live there have to vote on what the rents should go up to then they usually will have a good reason for it,” Miller said.

Miller said many NASCO co-op members pay about 50%-70% of the average rental market price, serving as a means of affordable housing.

There are two co-op properties under NASCO in Athens, The Vine and Fire House. Both have different eligibility requirements for becoming a resident. The NASCO website provides a comprehensive list for anyone interested in starting their own co-op. 

“The issue of affordable housing is so overwhelming and co-ops can provide a relief to that, that isn’t just housing, but a community too,” O’Connor said. 

For students who find themselves faced with housing insecurity, resources can be found at Bobcats Helping Bobcats. 


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