Real talk: Residence life

So you’ve signed up to live on the Portland State campus, and you’re asking yourself, “Is this going to be worth it?” If you’re a freshman or someone still lucky enough to be living off mommy and daddy, you’re probably not worried about whether housing costs are a good deal or not. Instead you’re probably worried about whether living on campus pays off in other ways. But at a school where the average age is 26, many of you are older students and/or transfer students wondering if a campus apartment was the right option. It’s hard to feel really informed about PSU’s variety of residence buildings before you come here, so let me break it down for you.

PSU’s First Year Experience
If you’re a freshman under 20 years old and with fewer than 32 college credits under your belt, you are forced (I mean welcomed) into one of PSU’s First Year Experience communities. The themes for these communities include Global Leadership, Sustainability, Race & Social Justice, Work of Art, Health & Wellness, STEM majors, Urban Honors (for those in the Honors Program) and Viking Floors (for freshmen who don’t want to commit to a theme). These tie directly into Freshman Inquiry classes. Though this sounds unbearably cheesy and joiner-y to me, the good news is that FYE floors are located in Ondine and Broadway, which are two of the snazzier residence halls. You’ll get cable and elevators, which puts you ahead of the people in the historical buildings.

If you ask me, living in the dorms is nothing like it looks in the movies. It can be kind of gross and awkward. My first term in college, a girl dyed her hair blue across three different shower stalls, and I walked in on two different couples having sex in the bathrooms. But living in downtown Portland will be exciting, and I promise you will meet many people who are actually cool.

Contemporary housing
If you’re not a freshman and you’re looking for an apartment in a modern building, your best bet is Broadway, Stephen Epler or Blumel. You can elect to have a roommate and pay half the rate, or you can elect to pay the whole thing yourself. Broadway and Epler offer some furnished rooms, though you can’t have cats in these buildings because they don’t have hardwood floors. The nice thing about furnished studios is the rate is assigned per bed, so if you have a roommate and they ditch you, you won’t owe their charges. You’ll still get cable and a shower.

Keep in mind that if you’re looking for your own studio or 1-bedroom, the modern buildings are considerably more expensive than the historical buildings. Sure, elevators, cable and showers are a pretty reasonable justification for paying what can average to over $200 more per month in some cases, but these apartments are also smaller. Historicals offer more space and arguably more peace and quiet, because you don’t have rowdy freshman underneath you.

Blumel is a nice middle ground. Built in the 1960s, it just went through some major renovations and offers 1-bedroom apartments which are not too outrageously priced, and without missing out on amenities.

Many of the modern buildings also offer studio suite and sleeper options for non-first year students, so if you’re coming to PSU with friends, you can save yourself some money. I don’t know if I’d elect to share a bathroom if I didn’t have to, but everyone has different priorities.

Historical buildings
PSU’s historical buildings include Blackstone, St. Helen’s Court, Parkway, Stratford and King Albert. They were mostly built in the 1920s and ’30s, and they’re very charming and also quite affordable for downtown. I moved here from Southern California, where I was paying more in rent for a room in my landlord’s condo than I am for a historical studio. When you hear PSU students say it costs too much to live on campus, these are usually not the apartments they’re talking about.

However, historicals have a lot of drawbacks. First are the stairs. These buildings are not friendly with the Americans with Disabilities Act, although you can request a first floor unit if you need it. Still, hiking to the fifth floor every day is pretty ridiculous.

You’ll also be living in buildings where the plumbing is so old that you only have a bathtub, and any shower head attachments can damage your pipes. And the buildings are not equipped for cable television, although in Parkway you can get it if you pay for it yourself.

I’d suggest Parkway as one of the best historicals for that reason—also because they have an easier back staircase. Stratford is also good because it’s only three floors, and you’ll be grateful for the proximity to Safeway.

Living on campus will save you plenty of time and money when it comes to transportation. You’ll love rolling out of bed and heading to a class that’s less than a block away. If you can afford a space you want, and if you’re willing to make some compromises, you’ll probably have a good time.