Blackstone overhaul forces relocation of students with children

Student parents living in the on-campus historic apartment Blackstone at Portland State will have to relocate next school year. The change has been brought by the transformation of all six two-bedroom apartments available for students with children into quad-style apartments capable of housing four people at once.

Michael Walsh, director of University Housing and Residence Life at PSU made the consultative decision to transition these rooms. While student feedback was not directly involved in the decision, Walsh said that associate directors, PSU staff members and those in finances were involved.

According to Walsh, all eligible student parents living currently in Blackstone will be offered the choice to live in one of five two-bedroom units in Parkway down the street, or a one-bedroom unit in Blumel on the same side of campus. These two buildings will stand as the only two available for students with children.

Demand for all types of housing appears to be increasing, Walsh said. The transition from two-bedroom apartments into quads will allow UHRL to house 24 students, as opposed to the six students it was previously able to accommodate.

“Everyone needs housing, including students without children,” Walsh said.

Twenty-two percent of students on campus have children, according to Lisa Wittorff, director of the Resource Center for Students with Children at PSU.

“I don’t feel they’re trying to exclude students…All the students who were living in Blackstone were offered equal housing in other places on campus,” Wittorff said. “I’m not saying it’s right or wrong—I think it’s actually value neutral probably. Housing is focusing on traditional-aged students. And that’s where they’re targeting their programing and… the way they develop their housing.”

Despite increasing housing needs, Walsh claimed that demand for two-bedroom units has flattened, resulting in vacancies in campus residences.

“We have two empty two-bedroom units because there are no families with children to take them,” Walsh said. “And since we are dedicated to holding them open only for families with children, they stay empty until a family with children comes along.”

While those two-bedroom units remain empty, the decision has still raised some eyebrows among students and faculty.

“You have to ask, what is the reason for a [possible] decrease in [student parents] living on campus?” Wittorff said. “I don’t believe there are any less student parents attending PSU. Is there something about the way student parents are treated on campus? I don’t know what it might be that might discourage them from living on campus.”

A student parent*, who lives in a two-bedroom in Blackstone, started an online petition earlier this term asking PSU President Wim Wiewel to keep the two-bedroom units. The petition estimates that UHRL will make an extra a $70,560 off of the transition based on proposed housing rates for the quads next year.

“We do bring in revenue and any revenue we bring in goes toward improving student housing, offering programs and services, paying for staff, and supporting the university as a whole,” Walsh said of the financial increase for PSU, which is a nonprofit university.

When the petitioning student attempted to renew their housing contract for the 2016–17 school year last term, they were told the contract couldn’t be renewed. A call to UHRL revealed the news that their two-bedroom unit would no longer be available next year. They have recently been offered a two-bedroom unit in Parkway.

“Up until now, we’ve been wondering if we’re going to be forced into a one bedroom or off campus,” the petitioning student said. “We had no idea, which is stressful when you have a child. I haven’t had the heart to tell him that we’re going to have to move. He loves it there.

“It’s a housing crunch right now, finding a two-bedroom that’s suitable for somebody who’s living off student income is really, really hard,” the student said.

At the time this article went to print, the petition had garnered 255 supporters including students and faculty members, according to the petitioning student. They have since emailed Wiewel multiple times regarding the petition with no response.

Wittorff pointed out that student parents often lack the time to advocate in ways the administration notices, such as petitions.

“I’m glad to see this particular student trying to make sure that the administration notices how students with children are being treated,” Wittorff said. “I think lots of times what happens with students with children is that they’re so busy trying to balance school and family and work…they don’t have time to get involved in student government.”

According to a briefing paper released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in 2013, about 4 million college students are also parents. Over 75 percent of single student parents are low-income. Forty-nine percent of them are first generation college students.

“They’re a silent part of the campus that has a lot of need and doesn’t always get heard,” Wittorff said.

In addition to the option of on-campus housing, student parents are offered on-campus childcare options as well as help at the RCSC. All of these things, according to Wittorff, are funded by the student incidental fee.

“The university does not pay out of general funds for any of the services for students with children,” Wittorff said. “I think it’s sad that the administration doesn’t support [student parents] more. I think that it signals to housing that it’s not a priority, if the administration is not going to support it.”

*Editor’s Note: Name has been removed from this article to protect student’s identity.