UMD Wants More To Live Near Campus

cp-hereIf you work on campus the University of Maryland wants you to live here. The Gazette is reporting on a study being performed by UMD to determine what folks are looking for in a neighborhood to better market the surrounding area to faculty and staff.

We’ve profiled Live Near Your Work programs before which have a marginal success rate at best.  Currently only 33% of faculty/staff live in Prince Georges county. What is really needed is a radical change in the perception of the area among potential homeowners. Although College Park was voted the Best Place to Raise a Family in 2011 by Bussinessweek, there are still several factors that push people to Montgomery, Howard, and even farther out in Prince Georges county. Concerns about public safety, the consistently low performing public schools, and high taxes are high on potential homeowners minds when they look to settle in the area.

So why is it that more faculty/staff do not  live near campus?

For Dan Thomas it was affordable housing in the 1970’s:

Dan Thomas would have liked to live closer to the University of Maryland, College Park, where he works as a research analyst. He and his family tried, in the 1970s, to find a home in College Park. “Unfortunately, there seems to be a limited supply of affordable quality housing in the College Park area,” Thomas said, adding that he has been in his Bowie home since 1978, a commute that takes him about a half-hour five days a week*. “It could just as easily have been College Park. We really tried back then.”

However, from the University perspective, the benefits of having more Faculty/Staff living in College Park are obvious. University Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Robert Specter:

For the university, keeping faculty close to campus means a more engaged and cohesive community. It also means a smaller carbon footprint if employees are close enough to walk, bike or use public transportation.

This is a topic that is near to this authors heart. In 1999 my wife and I made a decision to move into College Park. Since we both worked for the University it was important to us from a quality of life perspective to have a short commute. We also felt that although the area had a overall poor reputation there was enough positives that pointed to a turn around for the area. In the 13 years since I have seen positive changes as well as some serious setbacks. However I continue to believe this area has more upside potential than those who only see the sketchy parts of Route 1.

For me personally now that I have children (age 5 and 2) staying in the area or not will all come down to schools. The public middle and high schools in the area have challenges to overcome. The upcoming College Park Academy charter school should be a large step in the right direction.

Another issue is the availability of family friendly housing nearby. This is something that current development hasn’t directly addressed.  Here are thought from Mr. Thomas again:

I may be wrong, but other than the new student apartment buildings, I’m not aware of any significant addition of nearby family housing in many years.  Perhaps the relocation of students away from the residential neighborhoods of College Park and into apartment buildings designed for them will be a good thing in the long-run — making those neighborhoods more desirable for campus employees.  Hopefully, the efforts currently being made will help College Park to invite employees closer.  By the way, put me down for a new 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo within a couple miles of the campus.

It is empty-nesters like Dan Thomas, and myself in about 16 years but who’s counting, with a long affiliation with the University that can really help a college town thrive.

What are your thoughts? Do you work for the University? Where do you live and why did you choose that location? Did you consider living locally? Why or why not?

Sound off in the comments section.

* For the past 5 years Mr. Thomas has been using the Shuttle-UM service from Bowie for his now twice weekly commute.

7 thoughts on “UMD Wants More To Live Near Campus”

  1. There is an awful lack of places to “hang out” in the area, unless you’re into bars and restaurants. There once was a place called The College Perk coffeehouse that served food, coffee, tea, beer, wine, and also had music and other types of events. It was a great place, but then it closed down in 2009.

    College Park could use like FIVE of these type of community oriented coffee shops. Then more people would live there.

  2. If UMD really wanted people to live closer to campus, they would ensure Graduate Hills and Graduate Gardens maintained basic standards of habitability (these are the complexes on university land that are contracted out to Southern Management). Tenants have organized a facebook page to complain about heating problems since late-December, the parking lot is insecure and crime-ridden, and bed bug infestations appear to be rampant. The sprinkler system upgrades are terrible, with exposed pipes running around the ceiling of units installed by workers taking 2-hour lunch breaks. What a terrible place to live.

  3. To get more UMD faculty & staff to live around here, somehow the school situation has to improve — at least locally, if not county wide. Otherwise, you’re asking people to take a chance and settle down with their families in an area where the public school system is ranked 2nd worst in the state (below Baltimore city). And that’s a very hard sell; many people rule out College Park after they learn about this.

    That’s a shame, because the housing fundamentals point to incredible bargains. Here in North College Park, you can find a single family house (not a condo/townhouse) in a decent neighborhood, less than 2 miles from UMD, with a 10-20 minute walk from Greenbelt Metro for less than $250,000. With all the shuttle buses & bike trails, you wouldn’t even need to deal with Route 1 traffic on a commute down to UMD.

    It all comes back to the schools, though. I work at the Census Bureau down in Suitland and know plenty of people who commute to work from Calvert County & beyond. There’s one guy in my group who’s living in Waldorf, thinking about getting a house, and was interested in College Park when I told him about local prices and the overall commute. But he has two young kids and I had to mention the issues with our schools, which put a damper on things. That’s a story that probably gets repeated over and over again.

    To his credit, President Loh gets this and is pushing hard for the College Park Academy. If the charter school does come together, it could be a great partnership between College Park & UMD and address one of the biggest stumbling blocks with local schools by providing a solid local alternative for middle and high school students. And that would certainly help the situation when trying to attract UMD faculty & staff, though many would probably still have misgivings about the overall county school situation. If the charter school doesn’t work out, then even Clay may eventually move out to put his kids in better schools.

  4. Onward makes a very good point. It really does all come down to schools. If the schools available to those with kids in the college park area had made the same advances that the University has in the past 10 years you would see a strong desire for families to live here. Parents need to feel that the education they are getting here is as good if not better than the surrounding counties.

    If the charter school is a bust then I will indeed need to seriously consider my options. I will not sacrifice the education of my children on the wishful thinking for something that just isn’t there.

  5. Another vote on the schools. Needless to say, most people who chose to dedicate their lives to academia are very interested in the education their children will receive. With Montgomery County (and its schools) sitting right across the border, PG County and its schools are a very tough sell.

    A second issue is the lack of entertainment and cultural options for faculty, who are highly educated and often high earners. College Park has no decent sit-down restaurant. Bethesda has many. Of course going into DC is an option, but something close to home is always appreciated. College Park, outside of the university, has basically zero cultural options. No place to see a concert, no theater, not even a movie theater. College Park has bars, but lets face it, they are student bars where the goal is to get drunk on the cheap (been there done that), not a place where a group of faculty can go for an after work drink.

    I lived in East Lansing, MI, which had a few restaurants that priced out the students and were frequented by faculty (we could even host visiting speakers there) and one bar, the Peanut Barrel that was essentially a young faculty-grad student hangout. Not the greatest of places, but you didn’t have to wait in line, pay a cover, and be surrounded by 200 kids with fake IDs. College Park just doesn’t have that.

  6. Schools are #1, #2, and #3 in this. Most faculty and staff believe that it would be irresponsible to their family to settle here. Until recently, the university simply did not “get it”. Part of the problem is that most people leading the university do not themselves live locally. The charter school plan is a promising step, but it’s just one step.

    But making steps that affect 6th graders and up is not enough. The university could more easily establish facilities that ensure that CP has the *best* childcare around for children aged 0-6. There’s practically nothing for children under the age of 3. The university’s Center for Young Children (ages 3-6) is outstanding, but it has very limited capacity, and doesn’t offset the situation for children younger and older than that. Making the options better for the youngest children could go some way to making it attractive for young faculty/staff to settle here.

    Beyond that, it needs to be an attractive place for grad students and for young child-less faculty/staff to settle when they move to the area. Once people choose to settle elsewhere, they almost never move to CP later. East Campus was going to be a promising attempt to address this, but it has been diluted more and more, so it is less likely to succeed. For example, removing the grocery store from E Campus means that it can no longer aspire to support car-free living. What a wasted opportunity!

  7. While I agree that the quality of local schools is important, there’s also the larger problem of College Park being poorly oriented toward those who wish to take public transit or drive to campus. That is, people who are already inclined to commute in a green way are not likely to ever come work at the university.

    While it’s a welcome step that the university has dropped its opposition to the Campus Drive alignment for the Purple Line, the plan for M-Square that ignores existing and planned Metro lines is quite disappointing. Furthermore, the housing options within walking distance of campus are quite limited, and it’s shameful that one of the best recent proposals—the site plan for the Maryland Book Exchange—was rejected by the city council. The university and city get serious about urban living if they want people to live near campus.

    I studied at Maryland as an undergraduate and work in higher education but will not consider positions at the University of Maryland unless these things change.

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