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As new off-campus student housing is built near Wichita State, some students are displaced

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Kylie Cameron
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KMUW
Brick quadplexes on Roosevelt Court are demolished to make way for luxury student apartments south of Wichita State's campus.

Brick homes and duplexes built just decades ago along 17th Street are being replaced by sleek gray and yellow luxury student apartment buildings.

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Kylie Cameron
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KMUW
Roosevelt Court on a quiet June day, two months before developers began demolition.

Noise from demolition equipment replaced the hum of air conditioning units in a cul-de-sac directly south of Wichita State University’s campus during the first week of classes.

Brick homes and duplexes built just decades ago along 17th Street are being replaced by sleek gray and yellow luxury student apartment buildings.

The housing units that once stood on the Roosevelt Court cul-de-sac were occupied by mostly international students and their families.

The demolition is part of a two-phase development along 17th Street for student apartments owned by Seventeenth Management. The first project was between Yale and Harvard.

Now, developers are making way for the second phase a block east on Roosevelt Court.

“I don't think it's a bad thing to … develop more and make nicer places,” Roosevelt Court resident Jacob Tollefson said, “but I feel like they probably could have been a bit more open about what they were planning on doing.”

Tollefson lived on Roosevelt Court earlier this year with his fiancé, who was a Wichita State student.

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Kylie Cameron
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KMUW
Jacob Tollefson with his cat, Eve, outside of the unit he rented on Roosevelt Court.

This isn’t the first time Tollefson's rental home was demolished – he also lived on Yale.

Ahead of the first demolition, Tollefson said he was offered assistance with his move or access to another unit. But on Roosevelt Court, he said he wasn’t offered anything.

“This time, they were just like, ‘All right, you can't live here anymore,’ ” Tollefson said. “ ‘Good luck.’ ”

That’s contrary to what developers with High Plains Development told the District 1 Advisory Board would happen during their rezoning case in May.

“And if they're still in their lease, they get a special to live in one of our newer units for a lower price than someone off the street would to give them an opportunity to stay with us,” Tyler Ellis, who is with the development group, told the Advisory Board.

“And, you know, also along with that … we pay them a fee, just as a nice gesture, and really nothing we really have to do.”

Ellis didn’t respond to multiple interview requests but provided a short statement similar to what he said at the meeting.

International students who lived on Roosevelt Court but didn’t want to be identified, say even if they were offered a lower price in the newer apartments, it wasn’t affordable.

A one-bedroom residence on Roosevelt Court cost a family $565 a month – but in Seventeenth’s newer apartments, it’s more than $825 a month.

District 1 City Council member Brandon Johnson represents the area and said he wants to see more investment made in an attempt to keep current residents in the neighborhood.

“There's not a whole lot of thought process about the current residents or where they can go and how to help them,” Johnson said. “And to me … that's a shame.

“Hopefully, we can get more funding into efforts to keep folks where they are and make those houses a little more desirable.”

And that’s the issue, according to Stan Longhofer with Wichita State University’s Center for Real Estate: finding housing that’s well maintained in the area.

“Usually we don't have a shortage of the housing that's affordable, but we have a shortage of quality housing that's affordable,” Longhofer said.

That was the case for Yale resident Ashley Pinkerton, a WSU Tech student. She said she had to move 20 miles away to Sedgwick to find affordable housing.

“I spent a long time trying to search through the internet trying to find some place ... that was affordable because everything was very high priced,” Pinkerton said.

She only lived in her duplex for about six months before she was notified that she had to move out. She said she was never told before she signed the lease about the demolition.

“If they had, I definitely wouldn’t have moved in.”

According to Longhofer, construction of higher-end student apartments in the Wichita area won’t slow anytime soon.

“Sometimes you could see people who would like to have a less expensive option find fewer options that are available,” he said, “but the market is catering to what overall is being demanded.”

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.