PSU to expand on-campus student housing

Over the next few years, Portland State expects a significant increase in enrollment. While this may be beneficial in many ways, it begs the question, will there be enough housing?

The university offers a wide range of traditional and non-traditional housing options for students. From the dormitory-type freshman experience in Ondine to two- and three-bedroom private apartments, PSU must cater to a broad spectrum of needs.

PSU currently has 11 buildings on campus and five buildings off campus designated for student housing, for a total of around 1,500 units. Housing for PSU students in these units is managed by College Housing Northwest, a private, nonprofit corporation located on the first floor of the Montgomery Hall building.To be eligible for student housing, both undergraduates and graduates must pass a minimum of six credits per term for three out of four successive terms and must supply proof of academic eligibility on request. College Housing Northwest checks each tenant’s status at the beginning of each term to ensure sufficient academic progress.

The goal of Portland State and College Housing Northwest (CHNW) is to “provide desirable and affordable housing to students of the University [sic],” according to the PSU Bulletin. Units range from small furnished sleeper units and studio apartments to fully wheelchair-accessible, Internet-ready apartments. Prices for student housing range from the low $200s for unfurnished smaller rooms to the mid-$800s for two-bedroom apartments in the brand-new Goose Hollow complex.

Demand outpaces supply

Currently there are approximately 1,600 students, their partners and dependents living in CHNW-managed units. Compared to PSU’s total on-campus enrollment of about 17,000, this is a small number. But as an urban university, Portland State does not have the capacity to provide traditional dormitories for all its students like other colleges. As a result, there is often a long waiting list for on-campus housing, especially during fall term and for some of the more-desirable apartments.

Many students choose to find their own off-campus housing independently, either living with parents or friends or renting a space of their own.

The university considers finding new sources of on-campus housing a high priority, according to Brian Chase, director of facilities at Portland State. Chase said the university expects five to six percent growth in student enrollment next year and needs to find a way to accommodate both the current and projected demand for apartments. A five to six percent increase means another 800 to 1,000 students, which will only add to the already-overbooked housing situation.

PSU Facilities is working with College Housing Northwest to build another 100 units on campus within the next year and a half, and another 200-300 in the next several years. Some of the older buildings will be torn down and replaced with environmentally-friendly new ones, and a brand-new set of mixed-use housing may be on the horizon for the Northwest corner of the campus.

Birmingham and Mary Anne are among the older, less seismically-sound buildings on campus, having been built several decades ago and composed largely of brick. Both are located just north of the community recreation field, both house a relatively small number of students compared to other buildings on campus and both are slated for demolition within the next year and a half.

Chase says that both Birmingham and Mary Anne need more repairs than they’re worth. “They’re just too expensive to fix,” he explained. “Once all the seismic upgrades are put in, we wouldn’t be able to charge affordable enough prices for students. They just aren’t worth saving.”

It will be cheaper to tear down both buildings, salvage whatever materials can be reused and build new up-to-code buildings in their place, Chase said.

Facilities has recently written a request for proposals, or RFP, which will come out in May and is the first step in doing any on-campus construction. After the RFP is issued, Facilities will hire an architect to produce designs of the proposed buildings.

When the designs are ready sometime this fall, the university will accept student input on the new buildings. Then, after the design is finalized, Facilities hopes to bid for contractors and have the apartments under construction by summer of 2002.

The new apartments will be seismically sound and have many environmentally-friendly features. “Our priority is to build green buildings using green technologies,” Chase said, much like the Urban Center building.

Items such as double-paned windows and extra insulation help keep heating costs down, and Facilities hopes to be able to reuse some of the brick and other materials from the existing Birmingham and Mary Anne buildings. The new apartments will also be comparable in price to existing on-campus housing options.

“Our goal is always to keep on-campus housing affordable to students,” Chase said.

Students face minor inconveniences as construction changes PSU

Over the 2001-2002 academic year, students may find housing at even more of a premium as the Birmingham and Mary Anne are torn down — with no replacements ready until the following year. Although the housing shortage will affect students’ ability to find cheaper living quarters, Chase said that they don’t expect to have to kick anyone out of the buildings. “There’s enough turnover in student housing that it won’t be a big deal moving people,” he said.

Much of the turnover occurs fall term as students graduate or move on, and the existing rooms just won’t be re-rented out as the buildings are prepared for demolition. CHNW will work with students to find housing options with the reduced availability.

The next major housing project in the works is a 200-300 unit building near the Honors College at Southwest 12th and Market. At one time, Facilities and the City of Portland talked about possibly having a combination elementary school and housing project at the site, with occupancy geared towards those attending the elementary school. However, the idea fell through — for the moment.

“The current economics of the city and the school district make it not very possible right now,” Chase said, but the university would like to develop the existing lot into some form of student housing.

Facilities will figure out over the next couple of years what type of housing to build, and take student input as ideas are formalized and buildings start to take shape.

So the message for students looking for housing in the next couple of years is to plan early. Most apartments already have a waiting list of several months, and students coming in fall term expecting to find cheap housing may find themselves in a difficult situation. By not limiting your options and planning ahead, students can ensure they have some place to stash their stuff while they attend PSU. And after the new buildings go in, students can expect improved living quarters with modern amenities and a significant increase in housing alternatives.

For more information on on- and off-campus student housing, contact College Housing Northwest at (503) 725-4333, or visit them on the first floor of Montgomery Hall.