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UI graduate students unhappy with new housing offer

'This is the bad deal the university negotiated'

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IOWA CITY — Following concerns about rising rent at graduate student housing on the University of Iowa campus, property managers announced a new deal for tenants Friday that would allow more to qualify for a reduced renewal rate.

“Aspire at West Campus has great news just in time for the holidays,” according to a post on the Aspire tenants’ Facebook group page. “We have decided to offer the discounted renewal rate for EVERYONE who renews their lease for next year by the January 31st deadline!”

Graduate students two weeks ago launched an online petition asking UI administrators to push for restrictions in rental price increases at Aspire at West Campus, the complex that replaced the old Hawkeye Court Apartments. According to the petition, the rates at Aspire are more than 100 percent higher than at Hawkeye Court. Tenants learned after the Thanksgiving break that rates will be increasing once again for the next term.

A flier distributed to tenants said the first 100 tenants to renew their lease would get a reduced renewal rate — still an increase, but a lower rate than a new tenant would pay. Everyone else would have to pay a higher “market rate” to renew, according to the flier.

After learning of the Aspire new offer on Friday, graduate student Sam Lustgarten said the offer doesn’t address their concerns about affordable housing at all.

“This is the bad deal the university negotiated,” he said. “It’s an advertisement for people to renew. It’s not a solution. It’s not a fix. It’s not a cure. It’s not a panacea for this problem. We still have affordable housing problems. This does nothing for long-term housing solutions.”

The message from Aspire said anyone who already renewed a lease at the higher rate would get the lower price. But Lustgarten said, “This is just placating us.”

Students, in their petition, expressed concern that rising rates will keep graduate prospects from even applying to UI — effectively creating a sort of reverse “brain drain.” And that higher prices will drive out diversity at the housing complex.

“Aspire at West Campus is redefining graduate student housing into a wealthy elite apartment complex intended for those who make more than a fixed, annual, half-time stipend,” according to the petition that had gathered more than 560 signatures as of Friday. “They’ve made apartment complexes for graduate students, but the graduate students cannot afford them.”

The university in 2013 partnered with Balfour Beatty to replace the Hawkeye Court Apartments, which were built in the 1960s. Balfour Beatty financed construction of the project’s $31 million first phase to build a 270-unit complex, which opened in 2014, and then entered into the second phase of the project. Phase two, expected to be complete in August, involves construction of a $34.5 million complex that will include 252 units.

UI officials have said Balfour Beatty leases the ground from UI but holds all the risk.

Since launching their petition, graduate students have met with UI administrators, including UI President Bruce Harreld. Administrators said they were having productive discussions with Balfour Beatty to address some of the concerns, although details weren’t made public. 

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