By James Brennan, Columnist
Published June 25, 2014
In 2013, amidst debate surrounding the development of new high-rise student housing in Ann Arbor, I took the position that these new buildings were good. Friends would complain that complexes like Landmark, Zaragon and Varsity were ruining the city’s character as a quirky, medium-sized college town. My defense was simple: the addition of high-density buildings would add more housing supply, therefore lowering the cost for everyone else. Considering the current state of student housing, the addition of new units to lower costs was a logical idea worth trying.
We have yet to see a marked decrease in housing prices across the board, but that isn’t to say it won’t still happen down the road. Even if it does, endorsing the development of luxury high rises has turned out to be a terrible position to hold.
Going into the spring semester, I decided that for summer housing I was going to find a sublease in either Landmark or Zaragon, the two most popular luxury apartment buildings. Like always, the summer housing supply far exceeds demand, allowing rent prices to be a fraction of what they would normally be. Through a friend, I found a spot in a four-bedroom Landmark loft for $300 a month — half of what I will be paying for my other, much less luxurious apartment in the fall. Like many other students, without a huge reduction in costs, I wouldn’t be able to afford a place like Landmark.
Within a day of moving in, I realized how bad these buildings are for the campus.
While Ann Arbor is very much in need of more off-campus housing in nearby areas, not to mention much less shoddy, dilapidated living spaces, Landmark, Zaragon and others are not the solution to this problem. Instead, they are contributing to the further polarization and segregation of students off campus.
Spend a day in the lobby of Landmark and watch the people who come in and out of the building. It’s not a varied group. Landmark predominantly houses wealthier students. These students are already likely to self-segregate, but then we construct buildings that densely house people able to afford $1,000 a month in rent. While there is expensive housing everywhere, there are no other places where such huge numbers of people that are so similar in social class live (except, of course, far off campus in low cost housing, which presents an opposite but similar problem).
High-rise, luxury apartments are not a way to solve Ann Arbor’s student housing dilemma. Yes, we have plenty of students that can afford to live in Zaragon and Landmark, and we should make available more high-end housing units for these students. However, our first priority should not be toward making life better and easier for our most well off. We should instead be encouraging the construction of more large, mixed-income developments. Moreover, the University and students need to start taking landlords and housing companies to task for the crummy, potentially dangerous houses and apartments that we are forced to overpay for.
Housing is not just an issue of affordability but a major psychological hurdle impacting the campus’s polarization. Desegregating housing would not just encourage students to become better friends with their peers but could lessen the effects of ever increasing polarization based on race and class. If we can live together — and, of course, party together — maybe we can better understand each other too.
James Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.