Author Maureen J. Jules is a former HSU student and active member of Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing.
AMCAL, a large corporation from Southern California, wants to join the Arcata housing scene, claiming to help students find affordable, off-campus housing that is convenient for walking and biking to class. However, it is no accident that in 2012, AMCAL jumped into the profit-driven student housing market that’s worth $200 billion dollars. Since then, its luxury student housing projects have made rents even less affordable. AMCAL’s projects have exploded into college towns throughout California and Texas. Not surprisingly, similar corporations have carried this profiteering trend across the nation.
The effect of these privatized dorms increases rent for everyone and isolates students from the larger community. In Flagstaff, Arizona, for instance, private dorms have resulted in less affordable housing for all.
“At $700 a bedroom in most student complexes, that effectively sets the price of a three-bedroom apartment at $2,100 a month,” the editorial board of the Arizona Daily Sun said. “That means a family of four should be earning $6,500 a month to afford that rent (30 percent of income) while the median income in Flagstaff is well below that.”
Now, AMCAL is at our doorstep, where they hope to finance the construction of a 700 to 800-bed, yet highly restrictive dorm complex off campus (think gated, enforced quiet hours, corporate residential assistants and no alcohol or legal recreational drugs). I oppose their student housing project called The Village.
Since I love HSU students, how can I possibly oppose student housing? We are a college town and our students are cherished, valued, vibrant and intelligent community members. Students help define Arcata and they have just as much a right to live here as anyone.
That said, Arcata is a small town hemmed in by the bay, the farmland bottoms and the forest. I also have a serious shortage of housing and buildable land.
The property eyed for The Village is a rare, eleven-acre parcel surrounded on three sides by non-commercial residential neighborhoods. The site is not ideal for dorms, because there is no easily accessed grocery store and it is far from downtown. Plus, it is on the opposite side of Highway 101 from HSU, yet nowhere near the Northtown footbridge. This means those supposedly “convenient” walking, biking and driving routes to both classes and shopping will take The Village residents through congested and convoluted areas, like the Sunset/LK Wood intersection, several limited access trails and neighborhoods without adequate lighting or sidewalks. Furthermore, The Village plan would only provide about 300 parking spots for 700-800 beds, and residents who need cars would have to pay extra for parking.
This project would increase student housing, but only for those who can afford to live in upscale dorms where limited parking costs extra. These new off-campus dorms would lack all the conveniences and services on campus, including access to campus police and meal plans.
Greenway Partners is a consulting firm working on an alternative with ACRH. They are working together with over 150 ACRH members to create a pro-housing, pro-density and pro-infill alternative. I want our housing alternative to include apartments that HSU students will enjoy renting. I hope student apartments will be mixed in with other uses: light retail and single-family homes, some with mother-in-law units which HSU students might also like renting.
When students fledge the coup, I want them to have access to more neighborhood housing where they can easily get to know the non-student community. Dorms belong on or next to campus, not plunked down in distant neighborhoods absent of food and shopping. It isn’t that I don’t want student rentals or students for neighbors; I don’t want AMCAL dorms. We can build community by living together, working side by side and getting to know one another. You, the students, are our community and Arcata should be the village, not AMCAL.
Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing is actively seeking student input and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org