MSA project seeks cheaper, safer student housing

by Jens Krogstad

University administrators and neighborhood representatives have mixed reactions to Minnesota Student Association’s Project Lighthouse, which addresses student housing cost and safety.

MSA Vice President Jeff Nath, who co-authored the proposal, acknowledged that some resolutions would be difficult to implement because of budget constraints – especially one asking for lower housing rates and more University residence halls and apartment-style housing.

The MSA Forum will vote today on each resolution.

Nath said he hopes to lower University housing costs to compete with cheaper, and more dangerous, off-campus housing. The resolution also asks the University to change its priority to building cost-effective student housing rather than building student housing with extra amenities.

“It’s asking a lot, to be perfectly honest, because it asks the University to change a lot of things,” he said.

The resolution also calls for a revamped University Dining Services plan that will charge students only for food they eat, something MSA has fought for in the past.

Nath said the current dining service is inefficient because it produces and charges people for more food than they eat.

“Obviously, it will mean the University will make less money, but I think it can be done,” he said.

Two other resolutions address campus safety. They call for increased lighting around campus, especially on the St. Paul campus, more code blue emergency phones and readily available monthly crime statistics from the University and surrounding neighborhoods.

Nath said the lighting on the St. Paul campus is a concern MSA has raised in the last few years during its annual campus safety walks and needs to be addressed.

“This is purely on (the University’s) shoulders. It’s a public safety issue, and they’re not doing their jobs,” he said.

Greg Hestness, University assistant vice president for public safety, said MSA’s lighting resolution has not been implemented because of budget constraints.

He said code blue emergency phones are costly to install – about $3,000 to $5,000 each – and have never been used for their intended purpose of reporting crimes in progress, though they are used occasionally for medical emergencies.

The last resolution calls for stiffer penalties for landlords who violate housing codes. Nath said he has approached neighborhoods to begin working with them on the issue. He said the current emphasis on punishing students for over-occupancy – of which Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby, who represents the Minneapolis campus area’s 4th Ward, is an outspoken proponent – is misguided because it is often landlords who encourage that behavior.

“(Zerby) has really gotten on the over-occupancy issue,” Nath said. “But over-occupancy is an effect, not a cause.”

Neither Prospect Park nor Como neighborhood representatives said they had been approached by MSA on the subject.

But Greg Simbeck, neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said students are not solely to blame for over-occupancy violations.

“Certainly, land owners have a hand in over-occupancy – they are accepting multiple checks from students,” he said.

Project Lighthouse was spurred by the September deaths of three University students in a Dinkytown house fire and the gunpoint abduction of a University student outside Territorial Hall, Nath said.