Students resist housing changes

A move to streamline campus housing has been met with resistance by some students who say they are unhappy with the changes to housing policies, including when rent is due and how financial aid refunds are disbursed.

A move to streamline campus housing has been met with resistance by some students who say they are unhappy with the changes to housing policies, including when rent is due and how financial aid refunds are disbursed.

The changes were announced last February and went into effect March 1, after Portland State took over student housing management from College Housing Northwest, a property management company utilized by the university for 38 years.

Rent and other housing fees now show up on a student’s university account and must be paid up front at the beginning of each term, instead of month to month. Renters who choose to pay month to month are charged 1 percent on the outstanding balance per month, along with a $6 handling charge.

It is this new policy change that has some students, such as 24-year-old Ryan Nelson, upset.

“I think the whole policy itself, the way it’s structured, is most egregious,” Nelson said.

Nelson wrote a letter on August 23 outlining his complaints and sent it out to numerous administrators, state politicians, Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) and The Vanguard. In the letter, Nelson called the month-to-month fees “excessive, onerous and vexatious.”

Nelson also wrote that on-campus students would no longer qualify for short-term loans and that students would not receive financial aid refunds if they had a balance due on their account.

Chief Housing Officer John Eckman said most universities are on a term-to-term payment plan for on-campus housing and that moving to this method makes PSU more efficient and saves students money. All contracts are now year-long contracts unless otherwise noted.

“I don’t think the way it’s set up and the way it’s affecting students is in line with other universities,” Nelson said.

Nelson received a letter from special assistant to the president Rod Diman on Sept. 14, where Diman reiterated the university’s stance, including a correction of Nelson’s claim that on-campus students could not receive a short-term loan. Students paying monthly housing expenses and keeping up with payments will still be eligible for emergency loans, Diman said in his letter.

Nelson said he was unimpressed with the university’s response.

Nelson spoke with Nick Walden-Poublon, the university affairs director for ASPSU, about his concerns.

“I think that students should be concerned about it,” said Poublon, adding that three students had made similar complaints.

Poublon said he’s looking into the matter and has already e-mailed members of the administration.

Eckman said that the latest rent increases, 3 percent for most units, are significantly lower than in past years due to the increased efficiency of the rule changes. Last year’s increase was 9 percent. Students must now give 45 days’ move-out notice and, in most instances, may only move out at the end of the term.

He said students who want to pay month-to-month are charged a “premium” or handling fee and that the cost wasn’t designed to be prohibitive. Nelson pointed out in his letter that a student with a $600 monthly rent charge could pay as much as $192 a year in month-to-month fees.

Students who wish to cancel their contracts may do so, though they risk forfeiting their advance payment and may have to pay the entire housing charge for the current term if they do not cancel by a certain date. They could also be subject to a buy-out payment of $9 per day for the upcoming term.

“It moved us away from month-to-month evictions and move outs,” Eckman said. “Our whole system is more efficient.”

Eckman said that by preventing more mid-term move outs, buildings will stay fuller and there will be fewer empty units year-round.

“Efficiency is what it’s all about,” Eckman said. “Vacancies end up getting subsidized by other students. I think it’s a lot less disruptive to have students moving out at the same time.”

Instead of constantly preparing vacated units for new occupants, there are currently plans to remodel bathrooms in the Montgomery building, and the Ondine may soon see new beds, Eckman said.

Eckman said he realizes that some students may have difficulty adjusting to the new rules.

“There’s no doubt this is a major shift,” he said. “We’ve tried to be really cognizant to that by providing plenty of notice to students. Students, at the end of the day, don’t have to live in housing. It’s a choice.”