McQuade: Can grads overcome housing crisis?

Are student loans hampering graduates’ ability to buy homes?

As the graduating students of the Class of 2014 prepare to don their caps and gowns and choose a city to live in, there still remains one eventual challenge: purchasing a new house with a nearly insurmountable amount of debt.

And with the university’s recent adoption of the Fly-in-4 initiative, it seems that Temple is at least attempting to counter and lessen the burden of students working extra hours.

But for many students who cannot work, loans are often the only option.

These drowning loans, coupled with a sense of hopelessness, certainly cast a bleak outlook for many prospective graduates searching for houses.

According to Dina ElBoghdady’s unsettling Feb. 17 article in the Washington Post, student loan debt “has tripled from [10 years ago], to more than $1 trillion, while wages for young college graduates have dropped.” She said this debt “threatens to undermine the housing recovery’s momentum by discouraging, or even blocking, a generation of potential buyers from purchasing their first homes.”

Temple’s Office of Alumni Relations estimates that more than half of the university’s 292,520 alumni live in Pennsylvania.

Additionally, the rising cost of living in Philadelphia, coupled with student loan debt, may lead students to wonder: Can any graduates afford to purchase a home in Philadelphia?

“I never really planned to live in the city after college because I already knew how expensive it is to live down here,” said Patricia Kessler, a sophomore communications major.

Yet, even with Philadelphia’s lesser-known nickname – the “City of Neighborhoods” – and the rapid demographic shifts in various areas of town, from Rittenhouse Square to Fairmount, purchasing a house can still prove difficult.

As ElBoghdady said, the problem lies in college graduates not being able to “save for a down payment or qualify for a mortgage.”

The Institute for College Access and Success’ database, “The Project on Student Debt,” shows that Temple’s Class of 2011 graduates possessed an average of $32,766 in debt.

Combine this with hopes of staying in Philadelphia, and there are bleak outlooks.

Still, as the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported, the average starting salary for the Class of 2013 was $45,327. The number of Philadelphians who earned in this range decreased by 2 percent between 2011 and 2012, while at the other end of the spectrum, the number of households earning more than $200,000 increased by nearly 17 percent, according to census data.

Despite what Van Buren from the 1950s musical “Damn Yankees” said, settling in a city that seems so economically divided seems to require more than just “heart.”

Junior College of Health Professions and Social Work student Sarah Giskin said the census data realistically shows that “Philadelphia [will be] even more attractive for the rich to settle down in, and for tourists to visit.”

“I, like most students, plan to get a job wherever they will take me,” Giskin said. “I would love to stay in Philly, but as a person who will be in [a lot of debt] I do not have the luxury of choosing where I want to live.”

Some students, like senior speech pathology major Rebecca Thomas, said they harbor unsure attitudes about having a future of living – at least, right after college – in Philadelphia.

“It’s becoming a bit tougher for [Temple students],” Thomas said. “I know I’m going to have a bunch of loans and I’m not going to have the wages to [live in Philadelphia]. It’s a shame, but I get that cities have to expand.”

And with a quizzical look, she asked, “What do you do?”

Romsin McQuade can be reached at

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