How college football fandom is destabilizing housing markets in small cities

Places like Athens, Georgia, are seeing single-family homes being transformed into temporary hotels

Athens, Georgia, at dawn. (Getty Images)
Athens, Georgia, at dawn. (Getty Images)

In small cities reliant on college sports, the surge in short-term rentals driven by college football fandom is destabilizing housing markets. 

The influx of wealthy football fans and investors have transformed single-family homes into temporary hotels, creating an alternate market for short-term rentals that lasts about three months, centered around home games, the New York Times reported.

Take, for example, the University of Georgia’s flagship campus in Athens, with over 40,000 students, that plays a central role in city’ economy. 

The demand for short-term rentals surges during football season, with real estate investors buying and building homes to cater to fans willing to pay premium prices for weekend housing. 

According to AirDNA, the number of short-term rentals in Athens has increased from 865 in November 2022 to 1,135, with 88 percent comprising entire private homes, the outlet reported.

Rashe Malcolm, who runs a nonprofit and food truck business, told the Times the rent issue in Athens is exacerbated by the football season. The Georgia Bulldogs’ home games draw around 90,000 spectators, creating a lucrative market for short-term rentals that impacts local residents year-round. The effects are felt particularly in historically Black areas, where non-Black visitors increase during football games.

The trend is not unique to Athens, as other small cities, especially in the Southeast, experience similar market dynamics. Adrien Bouchet, director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida, notes the impact of college football on housing markets in Southern college towns like Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Gainesville, and Oxford. Short-term rental supply has grown significantly in these areas over the past year, with bookings peaking in November.

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The surge in short-term rentals is not only affecting rental markets but also inflating house prices, making them unaffordable for locals. Investors, often alumni with deep pockets, purchase homes for short-term rentals, driving up sale prices and pushing long-time residents out of neighborhoods. The issue extends beyond housing, affecting community dynamics and leading to concerns about the hollowing out of neighborhoods.

Cities like Athens and South Bend have implemented temporary moratoriums on future short-term rentals in single-family zoned districts, attempting to address not only economic concerns but also complaints related to noise and traffic congestion. However, critics argue that regulations are insufficient, and without effective limitations on short-term rentals, affordable-housing shortages persist.

Affordable-housing advocates emphasize the need for measures to prevent excessive increases in rents and home prices. In cities like Tuscaloosa and Columbia, the rush of investors converting private homes into short-term rentals is exacerbating housing shortages, tying up rental housing that could otherwise be available for families.

The impact is not limited to the rental market; neighborhoods are transformed as investors purchase, flip, and leave houses empty for weeks, affecting community cohesion. Residents express concerns about the commercialization of residential areas and the removal of affordable housing options.

While some cities have attempted to regulate short-term rentals, limitations imposed by state laws hinder their efforts. Legislation in Indiana, for example, prohibits local governments from passing ordinances regarding short-term rentals, leaving South Bend officials with little power to address the surge.

— Ted Glanzer