Development must meet housing needs

Last February, University officials decided to sell some of the school’s property in the Motley neighborhood of Stadium Village. The University Office of Housing and Residential Life issued eviction notices to 50 tenants of 15 houses that are up for sale, requesting they move out by June 30. But competing interests delayed the sale and tenants were given a 90-day extension. Longtime residents believe the University should sell the property — which includes the 15 houses, three empty lots and a church — to owners who will live in the homes. Meanwhile, Dinnaken Properties wants to buy the space and build more apartment-style housing for University students, faculty and staff members.
Although the University’s Real Estate Office must consider these competing interests while formulating a marketing plan, its top priority should be the needs of the University community. Motley residents like Frank Zaragoza argue that selling to the highest bidder, namely Dinnaken Properties, may spell serious consequences for students. They believe Dinnaken — which already owns Dinnaken, Tairre and Argyle houses — could monopolize the Motley neighborhood and charge exorbitant rental rates. They contend that more affordable housing will be available if the University sells the property to a variety of homeowners. To wit, most residents in the old Motley houses pay below-market rent.
It’s true that Dinnaken’s previous expansion into the neighborhood did away with some of the campus’s cheapest housing. But it also increased the quality and availability of housing near the University. Furthermore, Dinnaken, Tairre and Argyle houses charge rental rates that are comparable to residence halls and some off-campus apartments. For example, Argyle residents pay $425 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and access to laundry facilities and computer and study rooms. On the other hand, a quarter-dorm contract with the University costs between $783 and $928 per quarter, not including the required meal plan. A one-bedroom Dinkytown or Stadium Village apartment, meanwhile, averages $482 per month, which includes heat and electricity.
University administrators insist their partnership with Dinnaken is not profit-motivated but is meant to serve students’ housing needs. The nine residence halls can only house about 4,725 students, which has been problematic for incoming freshmen. In fall 1995, for instance, 40 freshmen had to stay in the Days Inn hotel until permanent housing could be located. And during fall quarter of this year, 253 students had to live in converted dorm lounges. The demand for student housing is on a rapid rise and private developers can meet this demand faster than the University or Motley area residents.
Residents are understandably concerned, but if the University wants to fulfill its promise to increase student housing, forming partnerships with private developers is a good deal. Because Dinnaken Properties has developed a record of providing high-quality, affordable housing, the benefits of marketing the property to that particular company outweighs the risks. If the needs of students can be met by these types of arrangement, the University should pursue them.