Three-year-old Wesley Olson held up a sign that read: “I
was born in Northwood II,” while his mother, Renee Olson,
pushed him along in a stroller and tried to keep up with the rest
of the protesters.
Wesley and his mom joined a crowd of more than 100 residents of
Family Housing who marched throughout Central Campus Friday. The
protesters voiced their opposition to the relocation of
undergraduates to three of the Northwood apartment complexes that
are currently home to families and some single graduate
“I have been very involved with Resident Housing …
and I feel like they’ve lied to us,” said Olson, who
now resides in NW IV.
“They have told us the reason we have rent increases is to
improve NW I, II and III. This year, we find out that (those
complexes are) not for families anymore,” she said.
“(So) our rent increases from 4 to 6 percent a year are for
what? The undergrads?”
Voicing similar concerns and sporting their
“M-family” t-shirts, residents of the five Northwood
units that make up Family Housing on North Campus passed out
pamphlets, knocked on University President Mary Sue Coleman’s
door and marched into the Housing office in the Student Activities
Building, in an attempt to receive a response from the
And when all that failed, the crowd headed to the Fleming
Administration Building, where Family Housing residents Heather
Albee-Scott and Sunil Mithas were delegated to find someone inside
the building to listen to their concerns.
“Why do upperclassmen have to be moved to Family
Housing?” said Mithas, a Rackham student who resides with his
family in NW IV. “It doesn’t really matter to them if
they live in family housing or on off-campus housing but for
families, (the relocation) is very disruptive because we have a
sense of community here.”
While Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper
addressed the crowd outside, Albee-Scott and Mithas were able to
speak to Associate Provost James Hilton who said that although the
University was very dedicated to preserving the right environment
for families, this yield of freshmen was unprecedented.
Because the freshmen class for the upcoming school year includes
about 400 more students than expected, a housing crunch has
resulted, leading University Housing to devise a plan that would
provide residence hall space for all first-year students who
requested it by the deadline.
The plan gave upperclassmen who signed a lease to live in Cross
or Coman House in the Vera Baits Residence Halls for the upcoming
year an option to either terminate their lease, or relocate to NW
I, II or III and pay the same price as they would have in Baits. In
turn, some families residing in those three Northwood units were
asked to relocate to the larger and more expensive NW IV and V but
pay the same price as their old apartments.
This relocation plan will result in the housing of 30 percent of
all incoming freshman on North Campus in Bursley and Baits
Residence Halls, the transformation of NW I, II and III to housing
for undergraduates, graduates and families and the reduction of
Family Housing to NW IV and V.
“The idea that they are taking (NW) I, II and III forever
means they are taking away low-income housing — the
(families) applying right now and next year don’t have that
option,” said Marty Mechtenberg, a graduate student who lives
in NW IV with his family.
Other than the protest staged on Friday, residents of Family
Housing met last week with University Housing officials to list
their demands and to try to negotiate a plan that would better
cater to their needs.
Among the officials who are working with Family Housing
residents is Alan Levy, director of housing public affairs. Levy
said the essential move of upperclassmen to Family Housing would
take place regardless because it was the only way to make room for
the incoming freshman class. However, he said the University would
continue working with residents of Family Housing.
“We are doing whatever we can do to be as flexible as we
can with respect to the concerns they are raising,” he said.
“We have extended a number of deadlines, we are establishing
two ongoing committees to work with Housing … in regard to
the environment in Family Housing.”
Even after meeting with the administration, however, residents
of Family Housing that oppose the changes feel that their concerns
have not been properly addressed.
One concern that ranks high among most of them is what they call
the deterioration of the international community that resides
within NW I, II and III.
“International students … would have no connection
to the University like they do now,” said Mechtenberg. His
wife Abigail, a Rackham student, added that the tight-knit
community that exists in Family Housing allows residents to depend
on each other for babysitting and cooking — a community that
may be lost when undergraduates move in.
“It’s not because the undergraduates are bad but
because there’s a lifestyle difference,” she said,
citing single undergraduate mothers who lived in Family Housing so
their children would not grow up in an “undergraduate
While preservation of the community is a concern for most Family
Housing residents, others’ anger is purely pitted against the
administration’s inability to inform them earlier of the
Families residing in NW I, II and III were notified through
e-mail or mail on July 13 that they could terminate their lease,
remain in their current location or apply to relocate to an
apartment in NW IV or V. They have until this Saturday to make
Albee-Scott said she contacted Levy in April to confirm rumors
about the possible housing of undergraduates in Family Housing and
was told that this was not the case. But many residents of Family
Housing claim that the University has been turning away applicants
to Family Housing since April in anticipation of a large freshman
Levy dispelled the rumors saying that the University could not
make a confident estimate of its incoming class until after the May
deadline for freshmen to send in their enrollment deposits. He
added that the housing deadline was even later and therefore, the
number of first-year students who would need residence hall space
was not known in April.
“There is no question that the timing is not what anyone
would have chosen. Our general rule of thumb is if something is
changing, we would want to give current residents a year’s
notice,” he said.
Director of Housing Carole Henry denied other rumors that funds
from Family Housing would be used for the moving costs of those
that were relocating or be put towards maintenance of NW I, II and
III. She added that Housing was working continuously to meet the
needs of families on North Campus, particularly through the
creation of two new committees.
The Overall Quality of Life committee will examine playground
equipment, laundry, parking and other facilities in Family Housing
while the Community Standards committee will oversee safety and
security measures. Henry added that expansions of laundry and
transportation services were also underway.
“We are trying to work with our families. We are trying to
do everything we can to minimize the disruption to any families, or
students,” she said. Questions residents may have are
addressed on the University’s housing website.
Still, those who protested Friday said the University is acting
selfishly and putting on a façade through meaningless
“The housing administration just wants money,” said
Lily Morishima, a resident of NW IV. “They don’t care
about community. (They) didn’t talk to us … and only
think of the money to be earned from the undergraduates. This is
very dirty,” she said.