It has been about 6 months since the issue of student housing really exploded in College Park and anyone (ourselves included) would have had a hard time predicting what has taken place since that time. What started off with hundreds of rising seniors losing their on-campus housing in April has progressed – or regressed rather – to over a thousand students potentially losing housing next school year (now with rising juniors thrown into the mix).
During the school facilities fee waiver controversy last year, when local leaders were proposing a massive cut to an incentive for the construction of privately owned student housing projects in the city, we proclaimed that there was “No End in Sight” to the housing crunch. At the same time we harshly criticized leaders for trying to limit the incentive to the Knox Box and Northgate Area – areas of the city which development seemed like a distant dream and non-student housing free-for-all respectively. These days, the Knox Box redevelopment is moving along ever so slowly, but Janet Firth has made a couple big moves since April. The Northgate area at the time was already almost completely proposed for luxury hotels and high end condominiums. The condo market flopped, the support for a TIF for Mark Vogel’s Hilton Hotel project evaporated, and nearly every other project in the area is now marred by financial/regulatory difficulties that make low and mid-rise rental/designated student housing a nearly forgone conclusion. Developers are literally falling over themselves to propose student housing after all the fuss last spring. Many of these projects we are compelled to keep under our hat for the time being, but we count 7 potential or proposed projects without even including East Campus, a Knox Box redevelopment, or any on-campus housing.
The University is proposing some token student housing on South Campus, but we think the importance of on-campus housing is being far overplayed by the Diamondback. Indeed, public-private partnerships like South Campus Commons are riddled with problems and make for especially poor forms of urbanism because they seperate students from present and future activity centers. We aren’t denying the need more traditional dormitories for underclassmen. One hasn’t been built in decades. That being said, a substantial increase in private off-campus housing could bring vacancy rates up from abysmally low levels and bring rents all over College Park back within reach. All this could be achieved without any financial contribution from UMD.
The Diamondback should stop perpetuating the myth that the root cause of the housing crunch is an increase in the UMD’s enrollment. To do so is the most inaccurate, simplistic, and irresponsible form of journalism that they have yet bestowed upon College Park. The housing crunch is fundamentally driven by a change in preferences among students (especially freshmen). People are opting for on-campus housing only because they are increasingly choosing to live closer to campus and the only decent, affordable housing is on-campus. How can enrollment be the deciding factor in the housing crunch if it has stayed roughly constant for the past 20 years?
Senator Rosapepe’s continuing bull in a china shop politics in regards to this matter is only damaging relationships, causing confusion, and accomplishing nothing. The University cannot fully build its way out of this problem and have enough land to achieve its academic mission for the next 150 years. Despite the senator’s continued insistence that land is the limiting factor for private student housing projects, the city is awash in developable land and developers are finally stepping forward knowing student housing projects can succeed off campus. To legislate our way out of this mess without careful consideration of the situation is to legislate Route 1 into another 15 years of big plans and no action.