Student Housing N Illinois

What's the top demand for student living properties? Security, security, security.

Infinite Chicago, a student housing community at 28 E. Jackson Boulevard in downtown Chicago. Infinite Chicago, a student housing community at 28 E. Jackson Boulevard in downtown Chicago.
Infinite Chicago, a student housing community at 28 E. Jackson Boulevard in downtown Chicago. Infinite Chicago, a student housing community at 28 E. Jackson Boulevard in downtown Chicago.
Infinite Chicago, a student housing community at 28 E. Jackson Boulevard in downtown Chicago. Infinite Chicago, a student housing community at 28 E. Jackson Boulevard in downtown Chicago.

As the student housing sector has matured into an asset class unto its own, developers have waged an amenity war to attract students. But those typically paying for these domiciles, the parents, aren’t wooed by swimming pools and fitness centers; there’s only one vital concern for them—security.

“Life safety and security are at the top of parents’ wish lists, and most rental decisions are made in conjunction with them, as they serve as lease guarantors,” said J.J. Smith, president, CA Student Living.

Because location often correlates with safety, the first decision is to choose a highly visible site in close proximity to campus as well as entertainment options like shops and restaurants. Location is the first determiner on any project regardless, but it also offers improved security with shorter walks to and from the students’ residences.

After targeting the right near-campus locations, safety and security can’t go much further without state-of-the-art access controls and surveillance features. Today, many student housing main lobbies include a video-call box installed at the entrance that provides face-to-face communication via cell phone to residents so they can verify guests before buzzing them into the building.

All ground-floor entry and exit points, as well as common-area amenity rooms, are controlled by key fobs so that the management team knows who is entering, when and for how long. These management teams should be trained to identify non-residents and either associate them with a resident or ask them to leave the premises in the rare instances where that might be warranted.

Like any modern building, security cameras are the lynch pin to tight security in a student housing complex.

“Each of our buildings has approximately 150 to 200 high-definition surveillance cameras, which are installed at every access point and throughout common areas, hallways, elevators, the parkway garage and exterior walkways,” Smith said. “All cameras are closely monitored by the building’s security staff, and video is recorded and digitally catalogued for future use, if necessary.”

Student housing shares much of its DNA with multifamily properties, and modern security systems in developments of each type are largely the same. While there is a lot of overlap, there are key differences between student housing facilities and traditional rental buildings.

“One additional layer present in our student communities is fobbed access to each bedroom within a shared apartment,” said Smith. “This is especially important for roommates who do not know each other before moving in, but we’ve found that all residents appreciate the extra privacy and security.

One property that CA Student Living owns is Infinite Chicago at 28 E. Jackson Boulevard in Chicago’s Loop. The 215,000-square-foot property encompasses two turn-of-the-century buildings (one of which is landmarked) that CA Ventures redeveloped with architectural design work by Pappageorge Haymes Partners.

The property boasts a coffee shop in the former Pickwick Stables—thought to be the oldest standing structure in the Loop—and every modern amenity that the 400+ student residents could want. In terms of security, it is also equipped with helpful on-site management and maintenance, security cameras, 24/7 staffing and electronic key access.

The future of the sector is definitely trending toward smart-home features. And while security may be top of mind for parents while the students are swayed by amenities, technology is where they coincide. The same access controls that allow for vetting incoming guests over cell phone can allow students to control settings like temperature, lighting and music as the sector moves more toward “smart unit” offerings.

“We also see biometrics—such as fingerprint or retinal scans—playing a futuristic role in building security and surveillance,” Smith said. “We are exploring different options for employee-only zones in our properties, which will further minimize the risk of keys or fobs ending up in the wrong hands.”

Safety and security ultimately falls under the property management umbrella, so the key to making it effective is to maintain an open line of communication between staff and residents, using that feedback to inform current operations and future designs to enhance security.

“All of the buildings we develop at CA Ventures have state-of-the-art security features,” Smith said. “Whether it’s a student, senior or residential community, we take the same general approach to safety, as everyone wants to feel secure in their home, regardless of age.”