Board needs to focus on student housing insecurity, not boutique hotels – The Maine Campus

Students sleeping in the Union and their cars, canteens running at low capacity and students going hungry: it sounds like the start of a University of Maine disaster movie, but it is a tragic reality. While spring break for many students meant trips to Florida, for some it meant a week of brutal survival.

On-campus students who were unable to leave campus on the Friday before spring break had to sleep on the Union floor and sofas. This Friday night was a rare glimpse into the usually invisible epidemic of housing insecurity facing students at the University of Maine. 60% of college students faced housing insecurity at some point during their undergraduate years. 14% of students are homeless. This issue affects non-white and gay students the hardest. Over 40% of homeless youth identify as gay and over 30% are black.

Housing insecurity can be debilitating. The mental health consequences for students can harm their GPA, social life, and create long-term health issues. This encourages students to UMaine’s flawed academic probation system.

The damage of UMaine’s housing strategy goes far beyond the mental. Room and board at the expense of UMaine $11,856. Subtracting the cost of one of the more common meal plans ($2,730), the price of housing for one semester comes to about $9,126 for seven to eight months of housing. This means that the monthly rent paid by a student on campus is $1,140 to $1,300, which is significantly higher than the rent paid by most off-campus students. For this price, a student could rent a 4 bedroom house in Orono all to themselves.

For this exorbitant price, students get a single shared room that serves as their living room, bedroom, kitchen, and study space. Walls are thin, beds are small, and bathrooms can often be a nightmare. Students who leave residence after the start of the semester may face more than $500 in fees.

Dormitory prices at four-year public universities have climbed 111% over the past 30 years, becoming an important source of income for universities. By mandating on-campus housing for freshmen, universities like UMaine are keeping a stranglehold on that revenue. This is nothing more or less than an abusive price hike targeting a vulnerable group of students who have no choice but to pay the price.

Information on student accommodation is hard to find. Many students are unaware that only three dorms on campus offer additional winter and spring break accommodation. While this information isn’t particularly useful if a student’s housing situation changes during the semester, it shouldn’t be buried. Housing Services FAQ Page under questions like “What if I’m 6’4″ or taller?” It may come as a surprise to many students to learn that accommodation is not even guaranteed for freshmen on this campus.

Worse still, UMaine is getting involved in the boutique hotel industry. Colburn and Holmes Hall will be converted into hotel space as part of a shared investment between UMaine and Radnor Public Realty Group LLC. UMaine will lease the buildings to Radnor and may be on the hook for up to $2 million investment of $17.2 million, despite the fact that he only expects to make an annual profit of $30,000 on hotels.

This means that the hotels, which will be built through the renovation of historic buildings (which UMaine has not well managed in the past), will take two-thirds of their 99-year lease at Radnor to break even. While students wonder if they have enough blankets to survive sleeping in their cars during winter break, they can rest assured that UMaine will make a marginal profit from their new hotels.

UMaine is unable to rent space on this campus when there are students facing precarious housing. This $2 million should be spent on student food and housing needs, not the University’s need to advertise itself. UMaine students are in debt and sleeping on Union soil while the board forgets their responsibility as leaders of a public university.

If UMaine is to build these boutique hotels on campus, they should be open to unhoused students during breaks. Besides, UMaine must expand its housing capacity in case of overflow and significantly increase the advertising of existing resources. Providing direct financial support and housing options to students is an absolute necessity that this university must provide before allocating funds for luxury items like a hotel. It’s not just basic economics: it’s common decency.

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