UO to sell out families for a few bucks

T.A. Barnhart

In 1990, my then-wife and I entered graduate programs at the University of Oregon.  We had a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old and very little in savings.  I had a graduate teaching fellowship, and that was the extent of our initial support from the university.  We knew it was going to be tough, but with school and a young family, we didn't want to have to add jobs beyond my GTF.  Thankfully, we did have one other asset, the one thing that made going to school not merely affordable but survivable.  This asset made our budget sufficient, solved our childcare issues and helped us have a bit of a life among all the work and stress.  That asset was university family housing, in particular Westmoreland Family Housing. 

Westmoreland was, for me, a special community.  Over 400 families lived there, and, at times, up to half of them were from around the world.  I had friends from Italy, Germany, Spain, Africa, Taiwan, Japan and even Boston.  Some of the families were couples, but the majority had children.  There was a great childcare facility on the premises -- a source of work study for me at one point -- and on the adjacent property, an elementary school.  We had playgrounds, laundry and a community center.  We had neighbors who became friends, life-long friends.  We had green space for the kids to play; my older son, Alex, rode his first bike at Westmoreland.  I still carry a picture of my younger son Jesse's fourth birthday party, out on the lawn between buildings.

Over the years, thousands of families have made better lives for themselves by attending the University of Oregon and living at Westmoreland.  As President and then Vice-president of the Westmoreland Family Association, I helped organize numerous events that made some semblance of a social life possible for people with very little time -- or energy -- for one.  We had movies, concerts, potlucks and we erected a new playground.  We got through school more or less intact, able to claim degrees because we did not have to worry about where we would live or how we would pay for it.  The rent, subsidized by the fact that the buildings had been paid for years ago, was less than most of us paid for food.  Because we had Westmoreland Family Housing, we could get our degrees.

And now the University wants to sell it and make a few bucks.  Ok, it's $15 million bucks, but there's a huge cost to be paid for that chunk 'o' cash.  The sale of Westmoreland will reduce by hundreds each year the number of families who can consider attending UO.  Westmoreland has well over half the housing units within the University; to provide for families that would be displaced, the other residences are no longer accepting applications.  The proposed sale eliminates over half of family housing, which is already scarce.

The University will use the money for a number of things (but not the new Mac Court; that's been promised), including residence halls.  The trouble with residence halls, of course, is that they are not for families.  The University has no intention of replacing the 400-plus lost units of family housing.

Vice-provost John Moseley stated on OPB yesterday morning that the University does not subsidize education with housing.  This is a lie.  I served on the University Family Housing Board and the University Childcare Committee, and both students and staff agreed that these services, funded by the state and by student fees, had the intended effect of making a college education affordable.  If that's not a subsidy, I don't know what is.  Even more so following the passage of Measure 5.  When the Amazon Housing facility had to be replaced, the number one concern for all was how to keep the rents affordable -- to do everything possible to maintain family housing as a means of supporting an education.

Vice-provost Moseley, and whoever else is involved with this decision, is either delusional or duplicitious to suggest that the private sector will make up for the loss.  The highest rent at Westmoreland is $490 for two bedrooms.  For that money on the market, the kind of apartment it would buy is not one in which to raise a family.  There will be no replacement for these 404 units; it's adios forever to 404 family units.  (And no doubt the end of the childcare facility there, as well.)

Money is tight in higher education; I know; I was there when the crunch began.  It has only gotten worse.  And Westmoreland probably does need significant repairs after 40 years, as Housing Director Mike Eyester states.  But to cite repairs as a major reason for selling Westmoreland is deceitful and does the University a disserve.  This is about money.  The UO admin can make $15,000,000 and rid itself of 404 apartments that need upkeep.  That's a good deal for an administrator like Moseley, and if it makes an education unaffordable for deserving families, well too bad.  Because according to Vice-provost John Moseley, it's not the University's job to help people go to school.

(Here are the websites for University Housing and for Westmoreland Apartments, with pdf's of letters sent by Mike Eyester regarding the proposed sale.  A coalition is working to stop the sale, and I'll present more on that as I learn more.  I only found out this was going on because I had on Morning Edition yesterday.  There is also a Save Westmoreland website, and info can be found there.  The bottom line is that the State Board of Higher Education is going to have stop the University -- more on this soon.)

  • ranaaurora (unverified)

    Giving up land in Eugene is very short sighted. The value will only go up and the U of O will never get it back. The state's population is growing and presumably the number of folks wanting to enroll at the U of O will go up in the long term. I guess it's good news for Eugene developers and landlords who will increase their potential renter base by several hundred in a single stroke.

    It's BS that Westmoreland is that far from the U of O. I used to take the bike route every day. I guess with today's traffic they should put lights in for crossing Pearl, High, Oak, etc.

    This is the difference between a typical state school (with a short-sighted administration that focuses on the current fiscal year) and private schools like Stanford and USC that rely on the interest from endowments and have 20 year plans worked out. I guess the U of O is hobbled by regulations that limit their use of property. I'd rather they rectify this in the legislature than dump the land on the market. Stanford owns lands with large suburban developments, car dealerships, and shopping malls. If the U of O had the ability to lease out the property for low income housing -- most people would be happy.

    And while their at it they should do some habitat restoration on Amazon creek. Widen portions of it like they have done further down stream and plant some ash and willow trees. They could lease or rent space with a view of that for a lot more than space with a view of the ditch.

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    It was Westmoreland student housing that brought me, and then wife, and one-year-old daughter to Oregon. Signed the lease agreement sight unseen in New York. In 1972 the rent was less then a hundred bucks a month, less than my electric bill in NYC.

    A wonderful community, and the way we could afford going to school. An absolute crime that the U of O wants to dump it.

  • (Show?)

    It is terrible that they're doing this. Apparently they forget how many families are attending school there and will likely have to leave if this happens.

    When I was attending the University of Houston, they did not have any housing available for families unless you were a graduate student. I was about to be married and needed housing where my husband and I could both live-- nothing was available.

    Dorms were out since there was no co-ed housing available. And it's not as if those dorms are a good place to have a family anyway-- there's no kitchen, no room for your kids, it's loud all hours of the day and night, etc.

    Since UH is surrounded by high crime areas, it isn't safe to get an apartment in the areas surrounding the school. We ended up way over by the Galleria, off the 610 loop. It was the cheapest apartment we could find in a safe neighborhood.

    More colleges need to start thinking in today's terms and not that of 50 years ago-- like it or not, people with families are going to be attending college. And if you don't accomodate them, they're not going to come-- which means a loss of money for you.

  • Kent (unverified)

    Although I don't know the exact details, I'm pretty sure that the UW has been building new family housing in Seattle in the U-Village area. Last time I was there I saw new apartments going up that were supposed to be subsidized family housing. How is it that the UW can do this with Seattle's white hot real estate market in the middle of some of the hottest retail property in the city and the UO cannot?

    I agree this sounds extremely short sighted. The UO needs to be planning for its needs 50 years from now rather then trying to cash out and make a quick buck today.

  • Marvinlee (unverified)

    Selling Westmoreland is unfortunate. The maintenance issues could have been resolved. There aren't many secrets on how to maintain rentals. Many students are better off with slightly shabby but functional housing at low costs than they are with superior housing that cannot be afforded.

  • steven andresen (unverified)

    Given some of the building allowances in Portland, where Portland State is surrounded by multilevel housing buildings, the University in Eugene could replace these family units, and then some.

    Yes, the administration does not have the desire to do what they assume big developers would like to do. The expected problem for students with families, of course, would be the high cost of any housing where private owners expect to make good on their investments.

    I wonder if the University has been promised a few dollars in donations in exchange for this withdrawal from the housing market. I wonder if they think their complex of dormitories are worth renovating and keeping.

  • Rep Bob Ackerman (unverified)

    Thanks for the information on the Westmoreland situation. The State Board of Edcuation will consider the issue as a informational item at its meeting in Portland on Jan 6. I will be there with written materials for the Board in opposition to the sale. There is no reason for the sale except to acquire real property adjacent to the proposed basket ball arena. How does this morph into student housing in the long run. The facility grosses about $2million in rent, is debt free and pays no real property taxes. It can easily pay for needed repairs over time. This represents a radical change in policy by denying access to education to student tenants in exchange for the undefined commercial development in support of a basketball arena which may not be built. I have much more. I will review your comments for further arguments. REP BOB ACKERMAN

  • ranaaurora (unverified)

    I had not heard of the basketball perspective. If the team could win some games they might be able to raise the money themselves.

    We're a one newspaper town (register guard) and they have publicized the "upside" of selling Westmoreland because St. Vincents DePaul might buy it for low income housing. Of course the University will likely use 5 million from Westmoreland to buy the old Register Guard building that they have been leasing downtown. The Register Guard's perspective (IMO) never seems to fall to far from the interests of its owners. This means electing pro-development, pro-expansion city council members, extending urban zoning to include their property north of the city, and getting top dollar for any land bought by the state (UofO) or taken by the department of transportation.

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