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Numbers show decline in students in University District

Dozens of Ohio State students are milling about display booths at a recent housing fair at the Ohio Union. Most are looking for a place to live next fall. On a campus as large as OSU's, the scramble for student housing is an annual ritual. Branden Luna is a junior studying respiratory therapy. He and his roommate live near campus, and want to stay in the same neighborhood next fall.

"It's close to the classes, so we don't have to walk so far," Luna says. "It's where we live right. All our friends live pretty much in the same area, so I just want to stay there for now."

Luna lives in zip code 43201. It includes areas adjacent to the University's campus and as a result is the home address of thousands of OSU students. But University housing figures indicate fewer students choose to live near campus. Dilnavaz Cama watches student housing trends as part of her job at OSU's Off-Campus Student Services. She says areas east of High Street and south of 11th Avenue have lost between a quarter and a third of their student population during the past three years.

"The numbers show in past years we had close to around 10,000 students in the core university district area, and now we're finding that number is closer to upper seven lower eight thousands," Dilnavez says.

Dilnavaz says the perception with students and many parents is that the University District area is a little more dangerous than in past years. The decline in student residents living near campus comes at time when neighborhood revitalization efforts are showing results. Much of the Campus Gateway Project has opened near the corner of 11th and High. The project features a movie theatre, book stores, restaurants, and some university offices. Campus Partners spokesman Steve Sterrett questions the accuracy of numbers showing a sharp drop in the number of students living near campus. He thinks the loss is less severe, but he acknowledges more students are giving up the convenience of an urban neighborhood for fear of crime.

"I think the perception of crime is real," Sterrett says. "It does have an impact on students choosing to live in these neighborhoods."

Fewer students in near campus neighborhoods has direct effects on some campus area businesses. Saturday's Salon fronts on High street near 14th Avenue. "They chose to open a location on campus because of the massive student population here," says Saturday's manager Kate Oppermann. She says her business is 95 percent students, and she's already noticed a decline in neighborhood foot traffic.

"The majority of people we get are people coming from class from the west side of the street. And then on the east side of the street, when there are no classes, business definently drops off," Oppermann says.

Campus Partners works with the University and the city of Columbus to reduce crime and eliminate blight as part of its plan to keep business profitable and residents safe. The improvements are welcomed by junior nursing student Joe Byer, who says he'll keep his apartment on Chittenden while he completes his degree, even though crime remains a neighborhood problem.

"I've had my car broken into a few times. There's been a few people we know have been robbed in the back alleys, held up (with guns). Sometimes they'll show the gun, sometimes they'll just say 'I have a gun.'"

Byer works at University Hospitals and most of his classes are on south campus. He says "you've gotta take the good with the bad."