Those still looking for housing next year will find slim pickings among the small number of Isla Vista units still available

BDC Management Inc., Ronald L. Wolfe and Associates and SFM Vista Del Mar Property Management already signed the majority of their 2004-05 leases this past January and February, leaving few options for people still searching for housing. However, local property managers say rental rates have been relatively stable over the past few years and the proposed I.V. parking plan will probably not affect rental rates.

BDC leasing agent Connie White said of the 120 units the company owns, only four apartments are still available – one two bedroom and three one bedroom units.

“Other than that, we are basically all rented out,” White said. “January and February were our busiest months, after that it starting tapering off.”

Valerie Sweatt, SFM Vista Del Mar Property manager, said her company is in a similar situation, with only two apartments available of the 133 the company owns.

“I started in mid-January. The first month and a half is usually pretty busy, there was the usual onslaught of people trying to get Del Playa,” Sweatt said. “Since then it has been very steady.”

Chris Mercier, Ronald L. Wolfe and Associates property supervisor, said only 15 percent of the 500 units the company rents out are still available. Usually at this point in the year, the only housing available consists of smaller one-bedroom or studio apartments, he said.

“Typically, groups tend to join up a bit early in the game. Those bigger places are sometimes more desirable,” Mercier said. “Because groups tend to form early on in January or February, the bigger places tend to go a bit quicker.”

Monthly rent for a Ronald L. Wolfe and Associates one-bedroom apartment ranges from $925 to $1200 and from $1650 to $2200 for a two-bedroom. On average, BDC Property Management Inc. charges $955 for a one bedroom, $2040 for a two-bedroom apartment and $2600 for a three-bedroom apartment.

The cost to rent a particular apartment depends on several variables, including location, the condition of the unit and the history of the building, Sweatt said.

“There are a lot of criteria. Location is important – the closer to D.P., the closer to campus it is, the more expensive,” Sweatt said. “You also have to look at the history of the building. Is it easy to rent? Is it tougher to rent? Usually the more units in a building, the tougher it is to rent.”

Although rent depends on the location and quality of the building, Mercier said the cost of housing in I.V. is affected by more than just which property management company you rent from.

“I think the market really determines what the rates are, so you will find fairly similar numbers across the board,” Mercier said.

BDC Inc., Ronald L. Wolfe and Associates and SFM Vista Del Mar all said rent was only raised slightly this year, especially in comparison to previous years.

“For tenants who stayed where they are, most of them didn’t have a rent raise,” Sweatt said. “With new leases, there was an increase on almost everyone one of them, but it was a nominal increase.”

Over the past few years, rent in I.V. has only increased slightly, unlike the substantial rent increases during the late 1990s, Sweatt said.

“There has been handwriting on the walls that [rent] was starting to even out. Its not going to be skyrocketing like the percentage it was six to seven years ago,” Sweatt said. “I saw it coming, I started not raising my rents as much three years ago.”

Sweatt said from 1996 to 1998, the cost of housing in I.V. increased dramatically due to high demand for housing, which was sparked by an increase in university enrollment and a strong economy.

“All of a sudden a lot of things started happening – the economy got better, university enrollment increased,” Sweatt said. “You had this huge swing in a very short amount of time. You had all these students and no place to put them. Prices just skyrocketed.”

Mercier said the proposed I.V. parking permit plan, which would require residents to purchase a permit for on-street parking, would probably not affect local rental prices.

“I don’t think you’ll find rent rates increasing in relation to the parking situation,” Mercier said. “I think you will find more owners considering charging for off-street parking spaces. But I don’t think that will have a direct relation on the rent rates.”

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will meet on June 1 to decide whether or not to pass the plan. If the plan is passed, Sweatt said her company would not raise rent or increase the cost of off-street parking.

“Bottom line, I don’t believe in that – that’s just wrong,” Sweatt said. “The students are paying enough.”