Squeezing into a dorm

Unless part of Portland State’s “urban campus” philosophy is supposed to emulate how bad you get screwed when trying to find housing within the vicinity of the school, University Housing needs to recalculate its rates for campus residents.

Unless part of Portland State’s “urban campus” philosophy is supposed to emulate how bad you get screwed when trying to find housing within the vicinity of the school, University Housing needs to recalculate its rates for campus residents.

Choosing a place to live during college–whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate, resident or non-resident–can affect more than just how far you have to drag yourself to class everyday. Your residence determines your neighbors, noise level, privacy, cleanliness and living space, not to mention monthly costs. It can make or break a whole year. I can’t tell you how many bad decisions I’ve made with roommates or location. I’ve hated pulling into my parking space outside of my overpriced, undersized apartment more than anything else each day. The thought of returning home–only to feign happiness when I see the relative stranger I’m living with or listen to my neighbor’s umpteenth straight hour of repeating the latest Modest Mouse CD–makes me cringe and want to sleep in the backseat of my car instead. I like company and music just as much as the next person, but how much are we expected to pay for affordable housing while at PSU and not completely lose our minds in the process?

I relocated to Portland a year ago this September to begin graduate school, but didn’t search for housing arrangements until about a month before moving. I considered renting through University Housing, but alas, they stopped taking applications (which cost $50 to process) at the beginning of August, so I looked elsewhere. Thank god.

Regarding these applications and housing contracts, the housing website states, “While we will do our best to meet your requests, this Contract is for a space in University Housing and not for a particular room or type of housing. By signing this Contract, you agree to accept any residence assignment, and understand this assignment may change.”

Since when is it a good idea to rent a room, which, theoretically in this case, you know nothing about until you’ve already signed and paid for it? That would be like going to buy a pair of jeans, and while paying for it, the cashier drops them in a large basket full of other pants and says, “I’m going to close my eyes and pull out a random size…if it’s what you wanted, great. If not, I hope you don’t mind squeezing into something way too small to be comfortable!”

Housing costs at PSU range from $940 (sleeper) to $3,636 (single room, with one occupant) per term, which covers 11 weeks of rent. After the application fee, you’ll pay about $1,000 for a single sleeper for the term. That’s about $400 a month. Not bad at all, except those sleepers range from 90 to 224 square feet.

What? Four hundred dollars a month for 90 square feet? I’d like to describe what that looks like for my reader, but when I stopped by to look it over, I discovered I could only fit one leg into the room at a time. Ninety square feet? Who the hell does University Housing think is going to actually live there? Is that supposed to be solitary confinement for students that don’t recycle, or only the ones who actually need affordable housing and should, apparently, be confined to a space smaller than a kennel where most house pets are stored during vacations? They might as well install airplane seats for the “furnished” couch.

If you’re paying $3,636 per term ($1,454 per month) for a room in the First Year Experience, then you probably don’t fit into the “affordable” housing demographic and aren’t reading this article anyway. But maybe you got the luck of the draw and ended up with the economy single at the Broadway Housing Building for $1,925 per term, which is about $770 per month. Sweet. That’s about average for a one bedroom in the downtown area, give or take a few streets toward northwest, but if you’re like me (a graduate non resident living off of loans), then you’ll have a little over $2,000 left over each term after you pay your tuition, excluding housing. You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to calculate that you won’t have much left over after rent to help you get around Portland each term.

Of course, this article is riddled with hypothetical situations–college is expensive these days and there are cheaper housing options further away from campus. Convenience is priceless when living alone, and who isn’t poor while living as a student?

Besides, maybe PSU is just doing a stellar job at giving you the urban experience where you “live in the middle of it all” and get charged accordingly. But if your name doesn’t get called on the waitlist, or you have to sleep diagonally to actually fit into the room you were assigned, I hope you find a better residence and, as the housing website states, wish you the best of luck with your search!