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Movin' on up

Published January 11, 2008

Finding an off-campus place to live near central campus is hard; finding a quality, affordable one on central campus is next to impossible. In the face of fierce competition among students to nab the best places, many students are left crammed into decrepit houses with inflated prices. Right now, the city of Ann Arbor is considering two separate proposals, one to build a high-rise apartment complex and another to rezone the area near Burns Park, which would only make the situation worse. These proposals move away from the two issues most important to student housing: affordability and community diversity.

The first proposal being considered is a plan to construct a 26-story apartment building called University Village on the corner of South University and South Forest avenues. The complex would house up to 1,750 residents and offer lush amenities including flat-screen televisions, washer and dryers in every unit, a fitness center, a café and a Residential Advisor on each floor. The design also promises eco-friendly features, like a green roof - a 14,000 square-foot area designed to save energy and recycle rainwater.

Sounds great, right? It's luxurious, leaves a small carbon footprint, emphasizes density and is right in the heart of campus. But the next logic question is "How much will rent be?". While the contractors have yet to make public how much it will cost to rent an apartment at University Village, the silence seems to indicate the answer already: too much.

Consequently, if University Village is built, it will turn out to be a high-end apartment complex serving the richer students on campus. This further segregates the population of those living off-campus, as students who cannot afford the pricey housing near campus are pushed farther out to the margins of campus to find cheaper rent. Naturally, this affects the University's ability to provide an equal and diverse atmosphere in which all of its students can interact.

If another city proposal is passed next week, though, some students will lose the option of moving even farther away. Currently, homes in the Burns Park neighborhood south of Dewey Street are zoned to allow both multiple-family and single-family units in the area. For students who are willing to live further away from campus, the extra distance translates into big savings. However, some members of the Ann Arbor City Council are hoping to rezone a section along Golden Avenue. The proposed change would rezone the area to single-family housing, which would not affect current multi-family housing but would stop more apartment complexes from being built and prevent homeowners from breaking their houses into several individual units.

For the residents who are demanding this proposal, there is only one justification: unrealized hysteria. Unlike some of the houses near central campus, plastic red cups and beer cans aren't strewn carelessly across the front lawns of houses in the Burns Park area nor is there any more of a parking problem there than in Ann Arbor in general. Students have generally been living amicably in this area for years. Even if a few students have been disrespectful, that's no reason to crowd them out of the neighborhood. The University has been rooted in Ann Arbor for almost 185 years. Residents are bound to encounter a few obnoxious students - just as students are bound to encounter a few obnoxious residents.

In both of the proposals being considered by the city council, there is a danger that student housing in Ann Arbor will become even more unaffordable and detrimental to our campus diversity. We need more high-rise, environmentally friendly student housing near central campus, just not with unnecessary luxuries that keep the prices high.