Survey: student parents’ housing needs unmet

Three-and-a-half-year-old Jake is already tall enough to peek out the window. On a typical day he could see a parade of hurried Portland State students with backpacks bursting at the seams.


But today is Saturday, and it is a great day to pick out some peaches in the Park Blocks at the farmer’s market. A bowl full of orange-red fuzzy fruit on the kitchen table is the most compelling evidence. Jake cups one in his hands and says, “soft.”


There are only 14 two-bedroom apartments on the PSU campus, and Jake’s mom, Juliet Buckley, a graduate student in public administration, feels lucky to have one. Two-bedroom apartments make up just one percent of the campus housing mix.

“It’s really nice for him to have his own room,” Buckley said. “Nice thing is the size and that it’s so big.” In the spacious living room, Jake swats a miniature beach ball back and forth with his mother.


Seven hundred and forty square foot apartments may be rare on campus, but students living with dependent children on and off campus are fairly common, according to data provided by John Eckman, associate director of auxiliary services. Recent housing statistics collected in spring 2005 for the Educational Benchmark Study and the Student Housing Survey indicate that about nine percent of Portland State students are student-parents. The data suggest that there may be as many as 2,000 student parents living with dependent children off campus and 56 student parents residing with children in Portland State-owned campus housing.


For student parents not able to find a two-bedroom apartment on campus, there is a good supply of these larger units in near-campus housing owned by College Housing Northwest. About ten blocks away, the Goose Hollow Plaza has 82 two-bedroom units and the Goose Hollow Tower has 28.


Lola Lawson, coordinator of Student Parent Services, receives between 1,200 and 1,500 visits from student parents per yearフ_, some repeat visits, and she noted that it is difficult for many of these families to make ends meet.  There is not enough financial aid to help parents with costs, Lawson said. “I have seen parents coming in needing food, rental assistance, afraid they’re going to be evicted because of a lack of funding.”

Transportation is another issue many student parents struggle with.  Commuting to childcare with a fussy two-year-old can be a challenge, Lawson said. On-campus housing eases the commute burden of families that cannot afford a car.


Lawson described what on-campus family-friendly housing would look like. It would have at least two bedrooms. And there would be common space and playground space on the outside “because little guys need to run.”


Aimee Shattuck, coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center said that it appears that Portland State administration supports the development of more family-friendly housing. “There’s a lot of energy and good intent,” she said. “I think people want to do it. It’s a matter of money.”


Obtaining funding to build a proposed student housing building is one of the main reasons the Student Housing Study was undertaken, Eckman said. In addition, the web-based survey that received 1,005 student responses provides information on the level of demand for student housing and the qualities that are most desirable. “I have to keep advocating for those needs,” Eckman said. “Not specifically for families but across the board.”


“We’re basing our planning on the survey results obtained,” said Ernest Tipton, manager of campus planning and design. He said that students are welcome to attend campus planning meetings held from 3 to 4:30 p.m. the third Friday of each month at the Native American Student and Community Center.


One more vote in favor of family friendly housing comes from Jake’s mother. She said that when she walks her son to childcare she tells him, “Mommy goes to school, Jakey goes to school.”


“I think it’s neat having him in this environment where homework and school is part of the vocabulary.”