GrandMarc is grand mistake for U

From time to time, the University has the opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of its students, often in ways that are not readily apparent. The ongoing housing shortage is an example. Instead of promoting affordable student housing, the University sold land to a developer to build luxury apartments on the West Bank.
It seems like a small thing, the construction of extravagant apartments, which is probably why the Board of Regents approved the sale of lot C91. They were acting in what appeared to be the best interests of our University, given the housing shortage. However, the type of housing we need is not the type that GrandMarc will be providing.
The apartments that are going to be available in GrandMarc at Seven Corners would delight just about anybody. The one-, two- and four-bedroom apartments will have an air of luxury, with separate bathrooms and even dens. Many services will be available on the ground floor, including a 24-hour business center, a health club and retail shops. Compared to the apartments and rooms I have rented in the past, GrandMarc might just turn out to be the Hilton of campus.
It all comes at a cost, however, and it will have Hilton-like rents. GrandMarc officials estimate that the rent per bedroom will be more than $500 a month. This is not pocket change for most University students. Few can afford such rent, but at least the developers admit this. Their target clientele will be students in the Carlson School of Management and the Law School, students who tend to have a superior economic status than, say, a General College student.
Upper-income students need housing too, of course, but there are more of us poor folks than rich people. We are the ones who pay $350 a month for a room in a decaying house or for an apartment in a dank, unsecured building. We deal with landlords who refuse to make repairs. We look in vain for an empty parking spot on the street while others park in heated underground garages. We are the ones who scramble to find a place every fall because housing is in such short supply, and there are plenty of crooked landowners ready to take advantage of us.
The University has shown great concern for our low graduation and retention rates, but I have yet to hear an administrator come out and say that the cause is the housing crisis. Academic counseling, tutors and even half-price tuition do not matter when the cause of poor grades is that one has to work 30 hours a week to pay for inflated rent. For many people, the University is a place to go between jobs, not the other way around. This consistently leads to failure.
The University’s mission statement says, “Share that knowledge, understanding and creativity by providing a broad range of educational programs in a strong and diverse community of learners and teachers, and prepare graduate, professional and undergraduate students, as well as nondegree-seeking students interested in continuing education and lifelong learning, for active roles in a multiracial and multicultural world.” The University is not on the path to fulfilling its mission regarding the GrandMarc project.
When housing is a constant worry upon students’ minds, we don’t have a strong and diverse community. Our community is instead fragmented. We have a campus made up of commuter students who must live far away in order to survive and consequently have little connection to the University. We have people who live in substandard housing and work two jobs in order to afford it. We also have people who can afford to live wherever they want, who don’t need to fret about rents and thus choose to be a resident at a facility that provides a concierge. This is not the strong, healthy community the University needs.
The University will not go as far as I wish in the housing area. Ideally, we should remember the law of supply and demand and flood the housing market. The University, working together with the state Legislature, could receive capital funding for housing — not to build more dorms, not to build more luxury apartments, but to build efficient, serviceable units that people can afford. Most students simply want a place to keep all of their stuff, to heat up their ramen noodles and to go to sleep. They don’t need health spas or a concierge.
Unfortunately, the University is not seriously proactive in the housing area, and it is doubtful that the administration will take the stance of building ourselves out of our quandary. There are roughly 5,000 students in University housing out of a total undergraduate enrollment of around 40,000. There seems to be no problem with this ratio in the minds of those who make the big decisions. There is room for improvement, but I am not holding my breath.
Short of this plan, at the very least, the University should make rational decisions when the opportunities arise. Such was the case with the GrandMarc project. Instead of supporting a project that would be affordable to all, they followed the money. We will have 370 bedrooms where there were none before, but the average student does not come out ahead. The only ones who win are those who receive the $2.3 million annually generated in rent.
The University experience is more than sitting in a lecture hall. For most of us, the University has not made our living arrangements any easier. The University can make a big impact on our lives through the policies that it follows. If we don’t demand that they stay on the ball and look out for the little guy who needs a place to live, the University will never fulfill its mission. Everybody will suffer as a result.

Nathan Hunstad’s column appears on alternate Fridays. He welcomes comments at [email protected]