Portland State University is currently in negotiations with College Housing Northwest (CHNW) to reconfigure the way that the two institutions interact.
This renegotiation will eventually see the creation of a new position, director of housing, and the reconfiguration of how campus housing is currently managed and maintained.
“We’re still going to be paying a management fee to College Housing Northwest for managing the facilities.” Assistant Dean of Students Michele Toppe said, “instead of also paying them to have a residence life program. PSU will do that now.”
Founded in 1969 as Portland Student Services, CHNW, a private non-profit, has until now been solely responsible for maintaining campus housing buildings and hiring resident managers at PSU.
While the contract is in the early stages, it is clear that PSU will take control of the staffing of resident managers and the collection of rent at the buildings owned by PSU.
“We have not had residence life on this campus, and College Housing Northwest filled the void,” Toppe said.
After the renegotiation, CHNW will no longer provide services such as the Freshman Experience at the Ondine. Instead, Freshman Experience will be handled by a new PSU Residence Life Program.
This program, under the wing of the Office of Student Services, will work to maintain student retention rates by connecting students with the health and psychiatric services that the university has to offer.
CHNW will continue to provide the services it currently offers to the buildings it owns.
PSU and CHNW will work together to determine rental rates, and both maintain committed to the CHNW mission of providing affordable housing for students.
The perceived reasoning behind these changes depends on the party asked: students, PSU or CHNW.
Annie Stewart and Trevor Bryant, co-coordinators of the Student Tenant Union (STU), formerly known as FIST, cite numerous student concerns about amenities and the quality of services provided by CHNW.
“I’ll be the first to admit that the rents are cheaper than housing at other universities,” said Stewart.
The problem, as Stewart sees it, is that the amenities and services offered in CHNW apartments (whether in buildings owned by PSU or CHNW) fall short of those offered in the private sector.
Bryant echoes those concerns, citing the new Epler Building’s high-efficiency studios as prime examples of student housing units that scrimp on space and retain market-value costs.
Traditionally, CHNW has tried to restrict its rents to 80 to 85 percent of market value.
The difficulty in that, as both Stewart and CHNW Director of Housing Operations Dennis McCauliff admit, is that CHNW buildings are unique among downtown rentals.
A lack of similarly located buildings for comparisons in rent prices is the number-one difficulty for CHNW in setting its pricing, and for the STU to make sure that those prices are in line with market value.
Most housing aimed at renters with incomes similar to students is protected low-income housing, by law unavailable to students.
In addition, there isn’t much that ties the PSU student-housing buildings together.
The Goose Hollow Complex, was built in two phases, separated by 20 years, features studios, one and two bedrooms, ranging from 460 to 800 square feet, with rents ranging from $400 to $800.
While the facilities and amenities of the Goose Hollow Complex are comparable to that of a privately owned apartment building, there really isn’t anything to compare it to in the area.
Most buildings in the surrounding area are either older or were designed as condominiums.
Likewise, some of the smaller sleepers on campus are available for less than $300 but can’t really be compared to the apartments available from private tenants, since most apartments available are studios or larger.
Concerns about rent values and CHNW’s responsiveness to student concerns is chief among the issues that Bryant would like to see resolved by the reconfiguration planned by the university and CHNW.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for it to be a good change,” Bryant said.
But Bryant wants the importance of older buildings to be remembered as PSU continues to expand the number of housing units available.
“I just want them to embrace the spirit in which students have worked to save the older buildings,” Bryant said.
He recalls PSU’s failed commitment to paying homage to the old Birmingham Building, demolished for the construction of the new Epler Building.
PSU officials underline the importance of a student life program: It is integral to the new outlook of the university.
President Daniel Bernstine’s plan for continued growth includes a focus on international, out-of-state and first-time students.
If these growth plans are successful, PSU officials expect the average student age to be reduced even from its current low of 25.
Associate Vice President of Finance and Planning Cathy Dyck explains that when the average age was 28, PSU’s current housing scheme was adequate, but now the average age and demographic of the university has changed significantly.
“As a result of that (change), the need for a new residence hall has been confirmed,” Dyck said.
Michele Toppe cites Bernstine’s Campus Climate and Life Survey of 1998 as a main factor in bringing the issue of housing and campus life to the forefront.
“He wanted to assess student needs on campus,” Toppe said.
She continued, “One of the areas that there was a strong statement about was campus environment, and one of the areas in that was the way students were being served by facilities on campus.”
PSU officials are still unsure of how CHNW will fit into the future of PSU, whether the university will eventually take over the facility maintenance from CHNW, or whether the relationship being worked out now will remain a model into the future.
CHNW officials describe the current plan as a work in progress,
“I think that the words that PSU and we have used is that it is an evolving relationship,” President of CHNW Gary Medaugh said.
McCauliff agrees that the changing faces of PSU students and the university’s quickly expanding population were two chief reasons that PSU has looked into more housing and centralized control.
Regardless the reason for the change, how this change will affect students is of paramount concern to all parties involved in the change.
“We both want the transition to be as seamless as possible,” McCauliff said.
Toppe echoes that hope.
The obstacle to transition most visible to students is the shift of most resident manager jobs from CHNW jobs to PSU jobs.
Toppe describes a new training program for resident managers including a four-credit-hour class to train resident managers.
“One piece that will be a seminar-type event, and also the course that will be two times a week,” Toppe said.
With the university in constant budget crisis this past year, it seems impossible for PSU to take another program under its wing.
Julie North, director of auxiliary services at PSU, says that the housing program will fall under her department and will operate somewhat like parking does now.
“Parking is an example. Parking is paid for by parking revenues,” she said.
That doesn’t guarantee that budget issues couldn’t affect rent or defer maintenance, says Dyck, but it does mean that the housing program will be somewhat sheltered from expenditure reductions.
Since the state doesn’t fund auxiliary services, state spending reductions don’t generally affect those programs.
Between the new Epler Building construction and the Broadway Building Project, which will include seven floors and 336 studio-housing units, PSU officials hope to increase the number of housing choices available to students.
“We want to give our students options,” Director of Auxiliary Services Julie North said.
PSU and ASPSU are actively seeking student input on the topic of the college housing reorganization. Open forums will be held on Jan. 28 from 1-3 p.m. in Smith Memorial Student Union, Room 296, and Jan. 29 from 4-6 p.m. in SMU 338.