Because of a lack of on-campus housing, the University has become a prime target for private developers. The University has not built a new dorm since 1967, creating a high demand for larger, more comfortable residence halls. Despite efforts to renovate existing dorms and plans to begin the construction of a new residence hall, there is still a pressing need for new and affordable living options in Ann Arbor.
According to the Ann Arbor News, United Campus Housing, a Texas-based development company seems to have recognized this demand, and plans to spend $50 million to build a 900-unit apartment complex on North Campus by 2006. Devoid of cafeterias and open to the non-student population, the new building is by no means a University-affiliated residence hall. The project, however, will still be marketed to University students. In particular, United Campus Housing offers a bed-by-bed lease policy in which students living in two bedroom-apartments have the option of signing separate leases, encouraging flexibility in the lease-signing process. Relatively luxurious amenities like multi-bedroom suites, private bathrooms, high speed Internet, parking and cable TV may bring may very well attract students to the new apartments. The price tag, however, may scare off budget-conscious students who would not be willing to pay anywhere from $595 to $905 per month.
The University has lagged behind in creating new dorms for its students, allowing the development market to expand into the private sphere. Given their assistance in alleviating the University’s urgent supply shortage, administrators have little choice but to cooperate with developers. The University has gone so far as to enter into negotiations over widening Murfin Drive, a University-owned road that would serve as the entrance to the new complex.
Despite its appealing luxury, the new apartments have some obvious pitfalls. The rent is high even by Ann Arbor standards, and the North Campus locale is less than appealing to most students. United Campus Housing’s presumption that students’ desire for opulence will trump their need for close proximity to Central Campus and affordable lease can be considered wishful thinking, at best.
It is unfortunate that students must turn to private developers in order to obtain comfortable housing at their university. As long as the University fails to rectify the housing difficulties facing students, large companies like United Campus Housing will continue to flock to Ann Arbor.
Though for the most part, the University has been slow to commence on-campus development project, the recently approved construction of “North Quad,” which will begin in 2006, should be applauded as a step in the right direction. The new dorm will only house about 500 students — a small number when compared to the number still living in aged University dorms such as West Quad and Mary Markley residence halls. Unless the University takes major steps in addressing the on-campus housing scarcity, it will have no option but to accept private companies charging desperate students top dollar.
The lure of luxury promises to tempt student rent money away from University housing and into the pockets of private owners. The need for a residence hall that will appeal to upperclassmen has been apparent for many years, and it is time for the University to step up and rectify the problem. If this does not happen, private developers such as United Student Housing will become a customary alternative for students on this campus.