Bringing down the house

The administration at Portland State University must consider the rights and interests of students when considering drastic changes to its housing policies. Otherwise, it makes the university seem archaic and motivated by profit.

Living on campus can provide students with important supplements to their education, like a social atmosphere and a convenient location. It’s easier to motivate yourself to go to class when you live less than 100 feet from the building. Meeting people is unavoidable in student housing. Also, sometimes that is where the best apartments are located. The opportunities of obtaining a resident assistantship give students life skills, supplemental income and job experience, plus a free room or apartment.

PSU has an unorthodox residence life program. It contracts the program out to College Housing Northwest, a private company, so that students have to pay rent in a different building than the one containing the residence life office. There aren’t dormitories for students on campus, only “dorm-style” apartments. The actual residence life program has only existed for three years. On the other hand, the basic amenities of living on campus are there: the close proximity to classes, the availability of campus assistance with plumbing or construction problems in the apartment and the assignment of complete strangers as roommates.

Right now, I live in the best apartment. It’s almost 500 square feet with utilities paid. There are hardwood floors and built-in shelves. For a long time, the only problem I had with the place was the lack of adequate sunlight for my plants.

That was before the overhaul of student-housing management. When I moved to Portland in March 2005, I thought it was odd that the university used an outside vendor for student housing. It seemed contrary to the idea of student housing at a university, which usually connects students to their classes and produces learning communities for freshmen beginning their college careers. However, it seemed to follow the mission of PSU: the city (in this case, Portland’s College Housing Northwest) was being served by the knowledge (and money) of the students.

I didn’t have any major complaints about the housing situation until a few weeks ago. Changes to housing policies and services were usually distributed to the residents before they were made. This time, the only information we were given was a flyer about an administrative meeting about budget cuts to the university. The fact that the rent was going to be increased by almost 10 percent without any foreseeable improvements made to the program was kept secret from the residents.

Part of the underlying issue is that PSU is a school catering to non-traditional and commuter students. There isn’t as much of a necessity for student housing at this type of university compared to Lewis and Clark College, whose student population contains out-of-state students of a younger age and lifestyle. With the exception of the residents, most students won’t notice when the student-housing program is abolished.

The student-housing problems concern everyone involved at PSU. The housing buildings are historic and beautiful. The program could provide a valuable recruiting tool for potential students.

Lots of students don’t realize that people live in the housing buildings. People are shocked to hear that I live on campus because the buildings are seen as vacant. If the university embraced the campus-living lifestyle and promoted it as a great opportunity for students, it wouldn’t need to raise the rent without warning or eliminate programs because students would compete just to live there.

I am lucky enough to foresee my own graduation in one year. It makes me sad to think that college housing doesn’t have such a bright future. It is unfortunate that my beautiful apartment may be completely vacant after I leave. I could be the last resident of the best apartment in Portland.