The student housing crunch in College Park is not new by any means. It’s been going on far longer than the 9 months or so we’ve been covering it. Yet, yesterday’s revelation that 639 seniors will be dropped from on-campus housing next year hit a lot of folks close to home and has triggered a level of student organization that has not been seen since the great Facebook rebellion of 06′. Some groups plan to stage a protest in front of Annapolis Hall every hour, on the hour, starting at noon today to criticize the Dept. of Resident Life’s 11th hour decision. Res life also plans a forum Monday at 1:30 in the Hoff Theater in the Student Union.
Indeed, the 639 number is just the beginning of next year’s waitlist which will be quite a bit higher once it incorporates lesser priority groups. The new Freshman deadline for housing applications doesn’t even occur till May 1st. More enlightened students will realize that if they aren’t affected by this round of eviction notices, their time may come if they seek on campus housing their senior year and don’t secure a South Campus Commons or Courtyards room.
So what exactly caused the crisis?
Clearly, the answer is a change in housing preferences as more and more underclassmen (and undergrads) vie for limited on-campus spots. The crisis IS NOT (we repeat: IS NOT) a result of increased enrollment at UMD, which was capped after the school became the state’s “flagship university” 15 years ago. IT IS the result of the university’s lack of available debt to build new dormitories. As we noted yesterday, UMD has not built a traditional dormitory since La Plata Hall in 1968 nor a suite-style dorm since New Leonardtown in 1982. They tried to build a new north campus dorm last year, but were handily rejected by the Board of Regents.
Who’s to blame?
It’s clear that Res Life erred in waiting so long in notifying students of their ineligibility for housing. That being said, they are not responsible for the failure to build more housing. Annapolis is responsible because tight purse strings led them to demand that UMD’s housing be self supporting. This caused the need, in recent years, for public-private partnerships like Commons and Courtyards, university land contributions like University View, and county incentives/giveaways for buildings like the Towers at University Town Center.
What’s not cut and dry is who’s responsible to house students – the city (+ county) or the university? Yesterday’s post drew maybe the most fierce comment string we’ve ever seen on this site. Opinions ran the gamut, but most will see that really both the private and public sector should play a role. It’s worth pointing out that both have made progress in recent years on the student housing front but somewhere along the way their efforts fell flat. Virtually no designated undergraduate student housing is on the way (in the city or on campus) and even standard (and existing) rental housing is having trouble navigating through the local planning and political process. Indeed the city has recently:
-instituted a rent control ordinance on single-family homes
-mandated owner occupancy requirements in nearly every project coming through the pipeline
-is pursuing the limitation of incentives for student housing via Annapolis
What’s the solution?
Clearly we need a multifaceted approach to student housing that includes the university bearing some of the burden. That does not mean they should pick up all or even most of the slack. The city needs to move forward with incentives for housing in Lakeland, the Knox area, and along Route 1 or surely the their neighborhoods will be so overcome with transient renters that they will be virtually unrecognizable in 15 years.
Jack Perry, a District 2 City Councilmen is quoted in today’s Diamondback as saying, “The University of Maryland needs the housing; we don’t. This is the city of College Park, not the campus of the University of Maryland.”
We say NO to Mr. Perry because his standpoint (the least enlightened on the city council) is a form of mutually assured destruction. Think like a mountain, Mr. Perry, think 5,000 to 7,000 beds.