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The Annual Scramble

Washington Interns Line Up for Their First Lesson -- in Housing Supply and Demand

By Sandra Fleishman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 29, 2004; Page F01

Have you heard the one about why interns are worse than cicadas?

Because they make an even bigger racket, and they descend on Washington every year.

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But seriously, this is also the season of the summer intern. This Memorial Day weekend, swarms of interns are arriving for a few months of hard work, intense learning experiences, great fun and the chance to rub elbows with pols, pundits and plutocrats.

And, as usual, they have been buzzing around frantically looking for a place to stay.

When the dust settles, 15,000 to 20,000 interns will have squeezed in someplace. But because the number of interns coming, like the cicadas, keeps growing, it's an ever tighter squeeze. The Class of '04 is particularly large because both presidential and congressional campaigns are underway.

It's not clear how much room is available this year. Local universities have thousands of beds, in dorms and student apartments that are vacant for the summer, but they cost on the order of $200 a week, more than many interns want to pay. They also fill up fast because lots of interns don't want the hassle of finding a place on their own, or because their parents prefer an established landlord.

Over the years, private businesses and nonprofits have also developed housing programs for interns.

Hundreds of new apartments, meanwhile, have been built in the District in the past two years, so the supply of housing has increased overall, housing analysts say. But the newer units generally command much higher prices than interns can afford and generally preclude sublets.

Group rental houses sometimes have summer openings too, but no one keeps track of how many will accept interns or how many might have been converted back to single-family units so their owners could capitalize on the astonishing jumps in recent home prices.

While the dramatic housing price gains have led some investors to buy properties, particularly condos, for rentals, "investors are loath to lease on a short-term basis," said Gregory H. Leisch of apartment research firm Delta Associates.

No matter whether more or less room is available this go-round, what is clear is that everything is more expensive. And particularly pricey are the neighborhoods most popular with interns -- those closest to where the internships or associated summer classes are held, such as Capitol Hill, Georgetown, American University Park, Foggy Bottom and Brookland.

With rents up overall across the area and vacancy rates tightening again, Leisch said, some interns have lowered their sights this summer. They're considering sharing a bedroom or a floor rather than getting their own room. In some cases, they may be jumping at deals that they regret later, when they find that the housing isn't up to their expectations.

The steeper prices have caused others to hold their breath and cross their fingers that their anticipated budgets will cover expenses.

Keith Randall, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, in mid-May said in an e-mail to a reporter that he was "feeling some pressure" as he scrambled to find a place just before leaving for China with his university glee club. He had exchanged a lot of e-mails with potential landlords or housemates, he wrote, and was trying to decide between a sublet and a situation as house manager for his fraternity's chapter house at George Washington University. But he didn't have much time to act, because he was headed for China on May 19.

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