U limits role in housing off campus

by Brady Averill

T#include td {border-right:1px solid; border-bottom:1px solid; font-size:90%; font-family:arial, sans-serif;} This is part three of a three-part series that explores the livability and safety issues in rental properties in the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods. Despite more thorough inspections, increased safety awareness and stiffer penalties when landlords don’t comply with city codes, these issues still remain.

1he University’s days as a prominent off-campus landlord ended years ago.

From the 1970s to the mid-1990s, the University owned as many as 60 off-campus properties in a single year, said Laurie McLaughlin, director of Housing and Residential Life. They mostly were single-family homes, duplexes and triplexes.

Today the University focuses on on-campus housing, which is geared toward first-year students.

But as renting near campus continues to be expensive and the quality of some housing deteriorates, students and community members said the idea of University-supported off-campus housing might not be such a bad idea. Some welcome the University returning to its days as a landlord.

The notion of buying off-campus rental properties or building new on-campus housing today is complicated, however.

University housing is self-supporting, and any off-campus housing would have to pay for itself, said Jan Morlock, director of University Community Relations on the Twin Cities campus.

“Running and operating housing at a higher density is a much more cost-effective way to provide housing for people,” she said.

The University guarantees first-year student housing. It also offers family and temporary housing for faculty members. Among its residence halls and three apartment buildings, it has about 6,300 beds, McLaughlin said.

During the past four years, at least three new multi-unit complexes have popped up near campus. This affects the University’s decision to provide more housing for students, said Mannix Clark, associate director of Housing and Residential Life.

“We want to make sure that when we build something, people will fill it,” Clark said.

As the new developments go up, however, the University has not altogether ignored new housing.

The University continues to assess the need. Members of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Housing and Residential Life staff members and others are talking about graduate student housing on campus.

Housing often factors into graduate students’ decisions on whether to attend a particular institution.

GAPSA President Karen Buhr said rental properties around the University are expensive and force many graduate students to live far from campus.

“We’re either looking at going into major debt in order to pay rent or going to other places,” she said.

Generally, she said, graduate students need a place to sleep, eat and study. They don’t need the amenities that some off-campus properties offer.

Beyond the need for graduate student housing, Buhr said the University does a good job addressing housing issues.

“I think they’re doing everything they can without purchasing housing,” she said.

Community members have varying ideas about ways the University can become a landlord again.

During a housing summit hosted by the Minnesota Student Association and GAPSA last week, some people toyed with the idea of the University buying properties off campus and turning them into cooperatives.

Ardes Johnson, who lives in a townhouse on 14th Avenue Southeast, said she thinks her neighbor should buy off-campus properties, remodel them and rent them to students.

“I just think the University could make money investing in real estate,” she said.