Graduate Housing in East Campus: We’re Glad we were Wrong!

We’re happy to report an important error in our post on the Nov. 30 East Campus Forum. Although discussions at the meeting suggested that graduate housing was no longer a priority for East Campus, we have since learned that graduate housing remains a central component of the project.

Ann Wylie, UMD’s Vice President for Administrative Affairs, said, “Graduate housing has been our number one housing priority from the inception of this project.” Blake Cordish, Vice President of the Cordish Companies, wrote “Everyone will gain from a graduate population in East Campus.”

There are no plans to include undergraduate housing in East Campus Phase I.

Wylie is a former Dean of UMD’s Graduate School, and has been a strong advocate for affordable graduate housing in the university’s new town center. As described in the university’s April 2010 request for proposals for the project (p. 5), an ongoing possibility is that the graduate housing could be financed through tax-exempt bonds from the Maryland Economic Development Corp (MEDCO), one of various ways to ensure affordability for the graduate housing. MEDCO bonds have been used previously to fund UMD undergraduate housing, totaling around 2900 beds in recent years.

The East Campus graduate housing could be built as a separate building. The April 2010 RFP suggests Block F in the schematic (see below) as a possible location, adjacent to the proposed site for the Birchmere music hall (Cordish have already made it clear that they prefer to break up the development into smaller blocks).

An interesting alternative possibility is that the graduate housing could be intermingled with the market-rate housing. This could be an excellent way to use the new development to foster integration of students and city residents.

In contrast to the sturm and drang that accompanies most proposals for new undergraduate housing in College Park–and is currently surrounding the Maryland Book Exchange development–graduate housing in East Campus seems to be an all around crowd pleaser. There are good reasons for this:

  • Grad students have really boring parties. Residents love this.
  • And they drink far too much coffee. CafĂ© owners love this.
  • Grad students tend to be year-round residents. Much better for local businesses than students who are gone away for close to 6 months of the year.
  • The campus needs to be a more appealing for grad students. The university’s ambitions depend heavily on its ability to compete successfully for top grad students.
  • They tend not to have cars, and want to live in a place where they can walk to the grocery store. Good for parking and the carbon footprint.
  • A grad student who lives in East Campus could save up to $150/month over commuting from Columbia Heights, in metro savings alone (peak rate).
  • Some grad students have young children. This is good for diversifying the community.