With MSA vote, support grows on campus for collegiate housing act

Students advocate for making donating to collegiate housing more appealing.

Jenna Wilcox

 

Support for a bill in Congress that might encourage donations to student housing, especially fraternity and sorority houses, has been gaining support around campus.

The Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act would change the tax code to allow tax-deductible donations to not-for-profit collegiate student housing that isn’t owned by a university.

Currently, colleges and universities can accept tax-deductible donations for its own housing.

In the case of many campuses, including the University of Minnesota, fraternity and sorority houses are owned by housing corporation boards, not the university. The boards are governed by the national entity of that fraternity or sorority, which means donations to the houses are not tax-deductible.

“The challenge that we’re running into is it’s becoming incredibly hard to keep up with 100- and 120-year-old properties in the country,” said Matt Levine, director of the Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life.

On Feb. 21, the Minnesota Student Association voted in support of the bill and will petition members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation to sponsor and approve it.

Since then, MSA President Lizzy Shay has worked with the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council to rally support.

The bill applies to residences considered educational housing facilities, so University-area cooperatives could also benefit.

Shay said when she spoke with the University of Minnesota Students’ Cooperative, they already expressed support.

“When I go to D.C., I’ll be able to have the letter with me signed by everyone on our campus who supports it.”

In the past, Shay said Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs, has written letters in support of the bill. Former MSA president Sarah Shook lobbied for the bill in 2010.

Previous versions of the bill failed to make it out of committee before the session ended.

There are 35 different greek properties that are worth about $16 million combined on the Twin Cities campus, Levine said.

All but two of those properties bear a historical landmark designation, which means improvements to the homes can be costly.

“The minute they want to make an improvement or an upgrade, instead of maybe a $3,500 French door, it’s now a $9,000 French door,” Levine said. “Although we’re interested in preserving history, it’s becoming an issue to ask alumni to fund these types of things.”

Member dues and donations from fraternity or sorority alumni are the main source of funding for many of the houses.

Matthew Niezgoda, president of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, said combined rent from members is around $6,000 each month, but it’s still not enough to cover some of the repairs.

“The house was built around 85 years ago and about 35 people live here now,” Niezgoda said. “There is a lot of wear and tear on the house, so any types of donations are welcome.”

Nolan Anderson, president of Delta Chi fraternity, said he thinks the bill would be beneficial to the greek community because it might make people less hesitant to donate.

But Anderson said the alumni have actively addressed repairs at the house and believes they are moving in a good direction.

The Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition has also joined in support of the bill.

“It affects the entire student body, not only the greek community,” MSLC member Spencer Murphy said. “If anyone goes to a house and something collapses and gets hurt, it would affect all of us.”

The bill is currently in the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee and has 107 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 18 in the Senate.

“I don’t know why they haven’t gotten to it yet,” Murphy said. “If something were to collapse or someone to get hurt, maybe then it’ll get more attention, but hopefully it doesn’t get to that point.”