Student Housing – 6 months later and a whole new ballgame

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 Sign of the Timesfor 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.

P9280020The 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.

7 thoughts on “Student Housing – 6 months later and a whole new ballgame”

  1. I cannot agree with you more! You are right to point out that while there is plenty of room for on-campus housing, there is even more room on Route 1. Although I am lucky to be living in the Commons, I am still very frustrated by the entire housing situation. Every time I drive or walk along Route 1, I can only shake my head in disbelief at the lack of development. I am glad to see that there are a good number of developments being planned, including the reconstruction of Route 1 itself. But it’s the year 2007, damn it. These plans have yet to take the next step. Sadly, I will probably be out of college before I will be able to witness a transformed Route 1 corridor. I hope that people a few years younger than me will not have to say the same thing.

  2. David writes that The Diamondback is perpetuating a myth that reducing enrollment numbers will help solve the housing crisis. He also links to our Produce a Plan staff editorial.

    If David has an issue with other editorials or stories, I’d encourage him to post them. But this editorial is the wrong one to cite.

    From the editorial:

    “In fact, the answer to the housing shortage can’t be found in enrollment numbers at all. As university officials were so keen on pointing out in 2005, a couple hundred students don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.

    “The answer to the housing shortage is more housing. A bizarre notion, isn’t it?

    “University officials are never going to solve the housing problem by twiddling around with enrollment numbers. They could solve it with more housing, though. More housing now, that is, as opposed to years down the road.”

    David, I urge you to correct your blog posting or cite other editorials/stories that you have problems with.

  3. Thanks for keeping me honest Kevin. I guess I’m not following the Diamondback as closely as I used to because a review of recent (emphasis on recent) articles revealed that reporters are doing a much better job of not pairing enrollment to housing. Some articles dance around it while others come right out and talk about the change in demand. Maybe the worst one I found was this one which lets officials get away completely with portraying their enrollment plan as a housing plan:
    http://media.www.diamondbackonline.com/media/storage/paper873/news/2007/10/19/News/Univ-May.Draw.Down.Enrollment.By.1000-3043773.shtml

    It’s now apparent that the “Produce a Plan editorial” was a response to this article and my post was unnecessarily harsh.

    It would definitely serve students well for the Diamondback to have a special report on the changes in housing demand over the last 20 years. Sometimes it’s hard for underclassmen to realize how much the university has changed in the last 6 or so years. That would involve taking the graphic forward and back:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rethinkcollegepark/510235347/

    Big stuff on the purple line coming up….

  4. You want to know what really grinds my gears?

    Rosapeepee’s political posturing on the issue. ATTENTION ALL MARYLAND REGISTERED VOTERS AND TAXPAYERS:

    Do you want Jim Rosapip advocating spending tax payer dollars to build more on campus housing so we can have more vacant buildings (like we did around ’90) when enrollment drops again due to population/birth rate cycles?

    Wrong Answer!

    If Rosapipsqueak cares about Maryland taxpayers and residents he will use his office to streamline the political / planning process so new housing developments on the campus perimeter (IE KNOX BOXES) can be “fast tracked”

    This can and does happen elsewhere. Developers that demonstrate good, sustainable development proposals are fast tracked through burdensome processes up along the Jersey Shore (go google “CAFRA”) if their projects will help rehabilitate a struggling area. (Asbury Park and Long Branch)

    We need to help developers like Vogel get their projects approved faster and need to reduce all of the complexity involved in dealing with the City, the County, The MNCPPC, etc. Until we do we will languish in a malaise and have to listen to blowhard politicians.

  5. I would be curious to hear others’ thoughts on the role of corruption in getting projects approved in PG County. For example, hypothetically speaking (of course) if Vogel were to donate enough cash to Rosapepe’s campaign (or any other key politician with the ability to stonewall or remove barriers to a project) would we see more development? or at least a faster pace? I cant help but wonder about the politician who was a road block to Maza over some issues that at least on the surface looked like real “non issues” perhaps the Maza developer was not providing enough of the proper “incentives” to said politician

  6. The University of Maryland campus that is located in College Park is having a huge issue with housing all of the students that attend the school. I think that before the town deals with the problems out of campus, it is first important to focus on what the students have, since they are the ones who are paying to attend this college. Out of state students are paying around 30,000 dollars to come to school here, so it should be a given that they would have somewhere to live and not have to stress over finding housing and paying for it. The school is accepting way too many kids, and it is not fair to people who do not have a car to drive to campus or who simply do not know how to go about searching for their own housing. I have spoken to many students who live in and out of state, and they all agreed that there needs to be a resolution to the lack of housing that is on this campus. I even spoke to some older people/ graduate students who are not looking for housing, but who feel like they hear a lot of students worrying and getting quite upset over the fact that once you are not a freshman, you are no longer guaranteed to be living on campus. I have sat in a class mixed with students of all ages who attend this school, and most of the older kids said that this problem has caused them much distress over the few years that they are here. When we spoke about what the school could do to fix it, a lot of people agreed that there is open space on campus where dorms could be put, and the Knox-Box area definitely has room for improvement. I have done some research on this topic and have some statistics that should help clarify how much of an issue this is for the University. There are 36,014 students attending this school, and there are seven residential communities between north and south campus, that in total have about 37 dorms for students to live in. This may seem like it could be enough, but it is not. There are also Sorority and Fraternity houses that house the students who are “Greek”, and that saves the University from the issue of all the students who are a part of a house. There are some apartment buildings that are set up right near campus, however as more and more students are forced to live there, the landlords make the prices higher for each apartment and that is not acceptable to many of the young college kids who are paying for their own rent. UMD has become a nationally popular and liked school, but I think that if this problem gets out of hand, the amount of applicants is going to decrease because who wants to go to a school that can not house them? I am currently a Freshman from New Jersey, and although I got lucky by a lottery and got housing for next year, I am quite nervous for the years to come because I have nowhere to live! I worked hard to get into this school, my parents work hard to pay for me to go here, I do not think it is fair that I am awaiting the day to get kicked off campus and forced to search the areas around for somewhere to live. This website shows a map of the new construction that is coming to campus. As enticing as a charming “town” nearby, or the purple line looks that it could be, it should be obvious that students are not going to utilize these great additions if they have nowhere to live. The summer is coming up and the amount of students in this area will be much less, so I think that it is a great chance for the school to hire workers to make some additions to the residential halls. Whether it is building an addition to a building, or putting up a new high-rise all together- something needs to be done. If you look at some of the pictures on this website, you can see that there is more then a few plans for construction to be done in this area of College Park. I admire that the county is working hard to fix the surrounding areas, but all this construction is going to effect the college campus community. The purple line construction is going to not only take a few hours, but is going to make a noisy next few years. One of the best parts of this school is that when you walk from class to class, it is usually a very relaxing and calm feeling to see all the green grass and trees filled with students on their way to doing their own personal thing. Before the purple line gets put in, or before the redevelopment of a certain area happens, the administrators need to realize that most students would choose to have a place to live over a train that brings you out of campus.

  7. I have just finished my first year at college park. I cannot be happier with my decision to come to the University of Maryland. The campus is wonderful, people are great, teachers are interesting, and there is always something to do. My one and absolute biggest complain is directed without delay to the housing problem.
    About two months ago the Diamondback’s front page read- “Easton, voted worst place to live.” Next to the article was a picture of a trashcan so full that trash was falling all over the floor. And not just trash! Beer cans, clothes, boxes, even underwear!
    I live on the second floor of Easton. Aside from the fact that Easton is 42 years old, I pay eight thousand dollars a school year (about a thousand dollars a month) to live in an 11 by 13 feet room, which I share with another person. Put together my roommate and I pay two thousand dollars a month for a room that is incredibly small, old, lacks air-conditioning, and side by side with twenty other rooms.
    But we are lucky! I have so many friends who are in a room that became a forced triple or quad. I even know people who were forced to live in the floor’s lounge! Even worse, I have friends who did not get housing at all.
    The campus housing shortage experienced over the past 10 years is developed primarily from higher retention – more students staying at the University through to their graduation. Because fewer students are leaving Maryland before their graduation, there is tighter interest in and competition for student-oriented housing on and near the campus. According to ResLife, The University of Maryland campus is expected to maintain its undergraduate enrollment at about 23,500 full-time undergraduate students from year to year, including on average somewhere between 4,100 and 4,200 new freshman!
    Today versus twenty years ago, student who live twenty minutes away are choosing to live on campus rather than to commute. This also adds more students to the equation.
    Last but very much so not least, more students are accepting college park’s admissions. College park admits 47% of their applicants. Ten years ago I would predict only 20% were to actually come to college park. Current day, 35% of students chose to come to college park.
    Something is wrong with this picture. If the University is aware of this, why is nothing being done!? I cant agree more with this article when is says that there IS more room for more construction. If in fact if more students are staying on campus the University either has to be able to accommodate this increase or simply, not admit as many students!
    I would like to thank the Diamond back for doing a great job and being almost always honest to us students. I read the Diamond back every morning and they do a great job voicing the student’s concern about the housing.

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