Uturns to large complexes to combat housing shortage

Todd Milbourn

With a washer and dryer, a self-cleaning electric stove, a dishwasher and a private bathroom sall within his one-bedroom University Village apartment, Andre Wiegand can live comfortably without ever leaving his abode.
“Everything’s right here,” the public policy graduate student said. “The apartment is so nice there’s no reason to go out.”
Student housing like University Village, complete with modern conveniences and semiprivate amenities, is growing in popularity around campus as well as nationwide. And as the demand for student housing increases, the University is turning, in large part, to developing more suite-style accommodations for students.
Some, however, are expressing concern about the affordability of such developments. And, in the case of off-campus University housing plans, longtime residents are worried about the implications of high-density housing for campus neighborhoods.
In August, the University will evaluate several proposals for another large-scale, public-private apartment complex near the Minneapolis campus. The new structure will likely resemble University Village in design and style and is expected to provide 300 to 500 spaces.
On campus, a 150 to 200 space suite-style addition to Middlebrook Hall is slated for completion in fall 2001. Riverbend Commons, scheduled to open in 2002, will offer similar accommodations.
Though not in the suite-style, about 150 spaces will be added to Frontier Hall by fall 2001.
University housing officials expect the roughly 1000 spaces these developments will create to meet the projected demand for housing in the short term. If more housing is needed, officials said they have plans for further development.
The suite life
“It’s a great place to live,” said Grant Robinson, a finance and entrepreneurial studies major and University Village resident. “I enjoy the privacy, and it’s a lot quieter than the dorms.”
Robinson’s response to apartment-style student housing is in line with most students according to Mary Ann Ryan, director of Housing and Residential Life.
“We’ve done benchmarking studies, and students seem to be highly satisfied,” Ryan said. “They enjoy the privacy and accommodations apartment-style living gives them.”
Ryan also noted that Middlebrook Hall, which offers suite and semi-private bath options, is the most popular residence hall.
Luxury at a cost
Though lauding the luxuries of privacy and convenience in such residences, Wiegand acknowledged a loss of communal activities characteristic of traditional residence halls.
“(At University Village) we don’t do laundry together, and bathrooms are separate. That can be a good thing and a bad thing,” he said.
Wiegand also noted the higher-than-average cost for suite-style living.
Next year, a two-bedroom University Village apartment will rent for $527 per person, per month. That figure includes utilities, water and most amenities.
University Village rates will be comparable to the rent at the new public-private complex, said Mannix Clark, assistant director of Housing and Residential Life.
The average off-campus two-bedroom apartment rents for $437 per person according to Apartment Search. That figure includes only rent.
To construct units with semi-private baths, single bedrooms, kitchens and laundry facilities costs more money than traditional residence-hall development, according to the student-housing strategic plan.
And “this more modern style adds to the cost of future housing and impacts the rates of all students living in University housing,” the report said.
However, the University pays close attention to costs and the concerns of students when considering housing development, said Ryan and Clark.
“We survey students, then try to build what they want as affordable as we can,” Clark said. “We don’t want to have new housing and not have what they want.”
Neighborhood Concerns
Although most people in the community acknowledge the need for more student housing, some have expressed concern about bringing more high-density structures to the area.
“These structures obviously do fill a need because they’re filling up,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis. “But they tend to be expensive and overcrowded and overwhelm the neighborhood.”
Paul Scheurer, a Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association member and longtime Motley neighborhood resident, also expressed concerns about parking and the consolidation of housing ownership characteristic of high-density housing.
Kahn suggested rather than developing large-scale public-private partnerships, the University should examine alternative and less expensive forms of housing.
“Using the University’s power and big bank account, they could do very much more in trying to put some cooperative housing together for students.”
The University offers two resident-managed cooperatives for students with families or partners.
A one-bedroom apartment in the Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative starts at $363 a month.
No such arrangement exists for single students without children.
Until 1997, the University owned and rented out dozens of houses in the Motley neighborhood to students, staff and faculty at low rates. The land those units were on, however, was gradually sold, mostly to private developers.
The University still owns a handful of townhouses on the West Bank that it rents for $375 a bedroom.
Six of the West Bank properties will remain after the construction of the new Art Building.
University housing officials attribute the increasing demand for affordable student housing to rising residence-hall retention rates, a University pledge to house all first-year freshmen who apply by May 1 and the off-campus shortage.
This fall, 359 first-year freshmen are expected to be temporarily housed in study lounges, expanded rooms and the Days Inn.

Todd Milbourn covers community and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3224.