Portland State University’s request for proposal on coordinating student housing and resident life programs on campus was awarded to College Housing Northwest (CHNW), continuing its 33 years of existence on the college campus.
CHNW was founded by students as a nonprofit business entity that provided cash-strapped college students with accommodations at 85 percent of the market rate. The executive board of the housing entity consisted of four student positions of the seven available spots.
During 2002, PSU changed its policy toward the housing contractors, deciding to forego its hands-off policy in favor of a more active interest in fulfilling residents’ needs. Reasons for this change included a need to centralize the housing options for PSU’s students, serve the educational needs and provide increased educational outreach programs, especially to out-of-state and international students.
Under the new agreement, which continues to be in the finalizing stages, CHNW will resume its position as leasing agent to PSU students but will remain in the capacity of leasers. The collected rent and resulting profits will be directly handed over to the university, which will in turn pay CHNW a percentage. Under the earlier agreement, CHNW merely paid a fee to the university.
When PSU first advertised its request for proposal, it received four offers, but CHNW was the only company to place a bid.
“The others declined to submit proposals,” said Annie Stewart, coordinator of the former Tenants Union, now the Student Tenant Union. Stewart also represents the student body on the Housing Selection Committee and the Contract Subcommittee.
“These are big changes,” she said. “Student presence is required to make sure students stay involved.”
Outlining her goals while serving on the committees, Stewart said keeping the rent at 85 percent of the market rate was one of their biggest concerns.
“We need to make sure that an institution like PSU remains accessible to nontraditional students as well,” she said. “PSU has been very supportive in regard to this goal.”
Another primary concern of students has been to ensure that a consistent system of governance is in place.
“CHNW encouraged student input, and we want PSU to do the same,” Stewart said.
Residents of current student housing cite displacement issues as another primary concern. Under the new contract, PSU will be looking to gradually convert the Ondine building into the “Freshman Orientation Program.” This conversion will occur gradually over at least two years so as to keep displacements and evictions to a minimum.
“CHNW has always found adequate housing for evicted students, and this should be no different,” said Ammar Shihab, an ASPSU intern who also serves on the Facilities and Auxiliary Sub-Committee for CHNW.
Stewart and Shihab agreed that in these initial changes, they were receiving differing ideas from the university and CHNW.
“We are receiving mixed information that is hard to solidify,” Stewart said.
To address these issues, both concerns have remained supportive and one-on-one meetings with members of the Selection Committee have been held to discuss student needs and ideas.
Another major concern among students has been the announcement of the hiring of new employees in the resident manager positions. Current resident managers will also be required to re-apply for their jobs. This issue is still under consideration between the students, CHNW and the university.
One of the main additions to the new contract is the set-up of the Resident Life Committee. The committee is responsible for engaging the student body in university activities, student outreach programs and other events, which will enhance the college life of the average PSU student.
While the committee is still being organized, students are encouraged to talk to their resident managers about ideas and concerns they might have.
“Students have a place on decisions,” Shihab said.
A forum is in the works that will feature the Selection Committee and the Resident Life Committee. Members of both committees will be on hand to communicate with students, who are encouraged to voice their opinions and concerns, ask questions and provide their input.
Stewart and Shihab agreed students are “pretty nervous” about the new contract.
“PSU is a unique institution. Students consider it as their home and not as a dorm. Therefore, they are nervous that PSU will make it more traditional with dorms and roommates,” Stewart said.
“They are also concerned about an increase in rent, which we are working on,” Shihab said.
Student involvement in this project is being encouraged by the university and CHNW. Students can be a part of the process by filling out application forms at the ASPSU office at the Broadway entrance of the Smith Memorial Student Union.
Students can apply for positions on the Facilities and Auxiliary Committee, Residents Life Committee and the Contracts Committee. Currently there are two available spots in each of the above-mentioned committees.