Developing the Student Living Experience: A Q & A with Our Student Housing Development Team


​We’re proud to welcome a new member to our student housing development team. Ben Angelo, senior director of real estate development, will be based in our Chicago office with our student housing development lead, Sean Spellman. The team will look for projects nationwide.

With projects at Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Missouri, the University of Minnesota, Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin under our belt, we look to grow our portfolio with thoughtful developments that contribute to the success of students and the vitality of universities across the country. Our student housing team is building communities that inspire the student living experience.

Here is a conversation with Ben and Sean about our student housing developments.

What’s on the horizon for student housing? What does the market look like?

Ben Angelo: At a really high level overview, the health of the student housing sector is really good, and it’s a really strong space. Last year student housing had its best years of all time as far as volume of deals and transactions. And this year looks to be on par, if not better, than last year.  The student housing sector continues to get stronger as new sources of capital flow into the sector.

What is our model and why do we follow that?

Sean Spellman: We learn a lot from each of our projects, regardless of sector. Over time, we’ve developed a unique student housing development model informed by our student housing experience as well as multifamily and other project experience. We look for prime locations near large universities. We want truly pedestrian locations that are close to campus, nightlife and student amenities. We look to create density on these sites to maximize the site value.

Part of our model is understanding the desires of the university and the surrounding community. Once we select a university and site, we spend a lot of time connecting with the community and analyzing the competition. Then we craft a site specific proposal that will align with demands of the students and community.

Will we continue to look at joint venture (JV) opportunities?

Sean: We anticipate a mix of on-book and JV ventures. Each real estate development project is looked at individually and our capital structure will be determined by a number of comprehensive factors.

What is our collaborative process and how do we approach communities? How do we work with communities to deliver the correct project?

Ben: Mainly, our collaborative process is early engagement, and that’s a differentiator. We make a sincere effort to engage the community, including city officials, neighbors, business partners, community leaders and more. This gives us a sense of the community and helps us determine design and how to position the project. At the end of the day, we rely on these community members for their endorsement of the project.

Working with the community allows us to tailor our products to the students at each University. There are specific reasons people choose to attend each school. Those things shape the student body, so we tailor our design and amenity package to align. Even if it were possible, we would never replicate the exact building design at multiple universities.  Even small tweaks make a big difference.

Are safety and security still high priorities in these buildings? What about other considerations for the building? 

Ben: This is always a top priority from programming through design and ultimately the operation of the property. It starts from day one with planning and it goes all the way through property management – who we select and their reputation for security. We’re not only leasing to the student but to their parents. Parents want to know their child is living in a safe and secure environment where their neighbors are held accountable.

The amenity packages continue to be important. The highly-amenitized buildings are the ones that sell. During programming it’s important to consider the amenities that are important to the market. Location and transit-related considerations are also important.

Is there anything else? Is there a trend or unique feature we should talk about?

Sean: Our customer is the students who choose to live in our development.  Today’s students are savvy, informed and demand five-star resort quality—so we keep that in mind throughout our site selection, design and implementation phases.

With more buildings in our portfolio, we’ve gotten a lot smarter. We do multiple product types. We look at the best development, design and construction considerations from each and cross them over. What we learn while delivering a building in one sector always impacts how we deliver subsequent buildings in other sectors. I’m looking forward to completing our next round of our student housing projects. It’ll be a whole different level of quality and expertise.

Ben: We have a lot of positives in regard to our ability to deliver. Capital is a big one. We have the capital capacity to do many projects. Our in-house due diligence team is great. We have a surety to close on a deal. Land sellers like our ability to get to the finish line. We’re backed by a lot of great people with a lot of expertise. 

Sean: Our system has a lot of differentiators that provide benefits to many stakeholders.  That being said, we are very proud to be among a very few top tiered developers in a very large space. But we recognize that we are only as good as our last development, so we plan to keep our eye on the ball as we move forward.

With deep experience developing residential properties, our student housing team is uniquely capable of delivering the right project in the right location. Our team is building the communities that inspire the student living experience. Learn more about our student housing development expertise.