We’ve shied away from using the term in the past, but we are now prepared to call the student housing situation a full out crisis. According to the Diamondback today, UMD’s Dept. of Resident Life dropped 639 rising seniors from on-campus housing, leaving public-private partnerships like South Campus Commons and the University Courtyards as the last vestiges of campus housing for that subset of undergrads. The move comes just a few months after spring freshman admits were denied guaranteed university housing for the first time ever.
This most recent move leaves many students shocked as they are thrown into an extremely tight off-campus housing market (2.8% vacancy rate if not lower) late in the leasing game. These students are victims of the university’s continued and rapid shift from a commuter to residential school. Apparently the student housing boom over the last 6 years just wasn’t enough:
Add this recent construction to the existing 8,250 beds spread over the 34 campus residence halls/apartments and it’s a formula for disaster if just a small fraction of the university’s 25,000 undergrads decide to break from past trends and seek housing. The last residence hall (suites) the university built by itself was New Leonardtown in 1982. The last traditional dormitory they built was La Plata Hall in 1968. Much of the demand can be attributed to UMD’s freshman who more and more are vying to live on-campus their first year (In the mid-90’s, 50% of freshmen sought on-campus housing. Now it’s approaching 100%). It’s causing a trickle down effect felt all over College Park, which despite the city’s best efforts, will surely push more students into single-family home communities.
And what, you might ask, is anyone doing about this impending disaster? The university’s hand’s are tied by state debt policy and plans no new dorms on campus as of yet, not one major private undergraduate housing complex is anywhere beyond the speculation phase, the city is cementing its rent control policy, the city continues to insist on owner-occupancy requirements for new condo projects, and the state is poised to reduce the scope of the only private student housing incentive in College Park this month.
It’s time, as many are realizing after the Impact Fee Waiver controversy, to revisit the Route 1 Sector plan and account for student housing needs in College Park (imagine that). Let’s start talking about allowing for “density bonuses” near campus and slashing parking requirements (as has been enormously successful in other college towns). Let’s stop banking on a Knox Box miracle and start talking about the reality. This housing crunch is not going away and we need to harness it to build in a common sense way – dense buildings with street-level retail and ample sidewalks just as everyone has envisioned for College Park. The talks can’t start a minute too soon.
Diamondback Housing Series Last Semester: