Studies find interest in improved housing near U

Surrounding U neighborhoods want more than strictly a student population.

by Rebecca Bentz

University undergraduates might be threatening the stability of surrounding communities, according to a recent housing survey and study.

The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and Humphrey Institute analyses looked at ways to attract staff, faculty and graduate students to Marcy-Holmes, Prospect Park and Southeast Como. Neighborhood residents hope increasing the communities’ older population will stabilize the annual rental turnover.

Housing survey offers improvements

Eighty-seven percent of the 625 graduate students, faculty and staff who responded to the survey said they would move closer to campus if better housing opportunities emerged. And of the University faculty members who conduct research, 86 percent think moving near campus would benefit their projects, the CURA survey said.

To improve the neighborhoods, the survey suggested developing homebuyer programs, renovating existing housing, building on-campus graduate student housing and improving housing inspections.

Suzanne Sobotka, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly president, said the student groups she represents need housing on campus.

“They often have different needs than undergraduates in terms of housing,” she said. “I think a lot of students would feel a lot safer, especially the ones who do work late in the library or in their labs; they’d feel better going home to on-campus housing.”

To help with off-campus safety, the survey also called for an increased police presence, pedestrian lighting and enforcement of underage drinking laws.

And to improve transportation, the survey suggested creating a bicycle lane network and a better bus system in surrounding neighborhoods.

Students’ role

Meanwhile, the Humphrey Institute’s University of Minnesota Neighborhood Housing Study looked at specific situations in the neighborhoods and how to improve community and University relations.

By bringing in a mixture of new residents, current residents hope the study will improve and stabilize their communities, said Joe Ring, president of the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association.

A strictly student population produces instability in communities, he said.

“We need a complete life cycle; that’s the ultimate goal.”

Matthew Ayres, who wrote and conducted the survey, said the average Marcy-Holmes resident is 21 years old. Younger renters sometimes drive out older residents who are disturbed by noisy students, he said.

“It’s just becoming a college town, which it’s not. It’s always been a community,” Ayres said. “I think that it’s really important to the people who live there that it remains a community.”

Southeast Como Neighborhood Coordinator James De Sota said some students occasionally take things too far.

“There’s always going to be certain issues you end up facing when you have a community with a large student population,” he said. “But the majority of students are not at fault.”

The neighborhood’s younger renters also deal with the negative aspects of a predominant student population.

But Ring said Prospect Park faces a better situation than the other two neighborhoods.

“Our housing stock is certainly better than average,” he said.

Many owners occupy their homes and keep them in good condition, though the neighborhood still has problems with over-occupancy, Ring said. Parking is also a concern, especially near University Avenue, he said.

For the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods, overcrowding and dilapidated housing are the main problems, the study said.

The study suggested converting many of the rooming houses back into one- or two-family units would help cut down on overcrowding. It said lower-density housing would attract home-owning families and individuals.

Public affairs graduate student Kristi Johnson, who worked on the study, said now is the perfect time to improve housing.

“The existing housing has wonderful potential,” she said. “I’d really like to see the University be a place where people would like to come back to live.”