New housing units due in 2 years

A new student housing structure offering compact studio apartments is planned to open by the summer of 2003.

The Birmingham project, as it’s now called, will go up at the corner of Southwest 12th Avenue and Montgomery Street. It will replace the aging Birmingham student housing building. The Birmingham dates from 1912 and currently contains 16 units.

The new structure will contain from 100 to 135 units, depending on the economics of construction, as outlined by Brian Chase, Portland State University director of facilities.

The new Birmingham project is now in a phase that Burt Ewart, project manager for the university, described as “very rough but not very schematic.” He said a budget meeting on the subject is scheduled this week. He described the units as “box studios.” Chase characterized them as “a very good environment in a very small space.”

Ewart said the old Birmingham will not be torn down, but rather “deconstructed.” It will be taken down in such a way that all suitable materials can be recycled into other projects. The Birmingham, ancient by today’s construction standards, has a brick exterior and contains other materials which could be recyclable.

Present student housing includes 11 buildings on campus and seven buildings off campus. The current status of student housing was presented Monday to the faculty senate by Gary Meddaugh, president of Campus Housing Northwest (CHNW), and Chase. CHNW is a nonprofit corporation formed in 1969. It manages all PSU student housing, whether owned by CHNW or the university.

Meddaugh told the faculty that PSU student housing has a continuing occupancy rate of 97.8 percent. This compares very favorably with the occupancy rate of other Oregon University System colleges.

CHNW follows what it calls a nexus philosophy, emphasizing people, performance and planning.

This philosophy attempts to consider the needs and interests of the students and includes special events and programs. The philosophy carries over into the facilities themselves, which feature such environment-friendly features as recyclable carpeting.

Meddaugh said CHNW pegs the rental rate at about 80 percent of comparable market value. This is determined by a survey of other housing in the area. He said more than 90 percent of student residents report they would recommend student housing to other students.

Chase said the world of housing at Portland State is changing rapidly.

“Thirty percent of our students live in managed housing,” he said, “but our housing stock is getting older.” Much of it was built before 1932. The university’s contract with CHNW will be up for renewal in July and some problems must be addressed.

“At present, many more people want housing than have it,” Chase said. The new Birmingham will help alleviate this to a degree. But he pointed out that besides losing the old Birmingham, the Maryanne on Southwest 11th Avenue between Montgomery and Hall Streets is set to come off line.

He estimated the total gain in living spaces with the new Birmingham will amount to about 100 units.The great problem, he said, is the much higher cost of building suitable buildings downtown as compared to past decades. The last new building built was West Hall, and that was 10 years ago.

Yet, to build West Hall to required standards and still keep rents at a reasonable level, the rents had to be raised for everyone in student housing.

The state, he said, ordered that PSU cannot build dormitory type structures. This leaves the choice to apartment units only. The question now becomes, “Can we build it and still be affordable?”

Also, he said, he wonders if the university needs housing which contains a conference facility, an amenity now lacking. There is also the question of how big the student population may become in the near future.

In response to a question from the floor, Chase said potential building sites on property now owned by the university could total about a half million square feet. This could conceivably provide 400 to 500 units of housing but the question remains, “Can it be made affordable or are we going to build housing only for upper-income students?”Also, he pointed out, these potential building spaces already are coveted by academic departments.Meddaugh stated it has been 30 years since a new apartment building has been built downtown that has not been subsidized in some manner.Whether the new housing will retain the name of Birmingham is not settled. Ewart expressed the hope it might be different. The architects for the project are Mithun Associates of Seattle.