Before journalism graduate student Bo Evans began working toward his degree, he searched for a place to live in College Park.
While this university’s Graduate Gardens were a “good deal,” Evans said, he did not like any of the apartments and eventually decided on The Varsity. And while the unit fits all of his needs, the price isn’t ideal.
“The housing situation in College Park is absolutely not realistic or affordable for anyone who isn’t getting support from an outside source,” Evans said. “If it wasn’t for my loans and help from my parents, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”
On Jan. 26, the College Park City Council voted 8-0 to support the deletion of student surcharge exemption areas, which incentivized the construction of off-campus housing such as the Landmark and Terrapin Row.
While the council has voted to support the deletion of the current surcharge exemption areas, the Maryland state legislature will vote on whether it becomes legislation.
But though these exemption areas encouraged building options for undergraduate students, the council’s next step will focus on incentivizing housing construction geared toward another part of this university’s population: graduate students.
This incentivized housing would make it cheaper for developers to build, leading to more housing units being constructed and more options for graduate students to choose from.
Currently, the only graduate-specific housing areas are the Graduate Gardens and Graduate Hills communities, both located on university property.
“There’s plenty of housing in College Park, but not very much graduate-specific housing,” said Jennifer Lindstrom, the coordinator for this university’s Off-Campus Housing Services. “It would benefit graduate students to have graduate-designated housing.”
District 2 Councilman P.J. Brennan, who authored the motion, said the city lacks market-rate housing options that appeal to graduate students, such as apartments, studios and condominiums.
Lindstrom added that some students want to be around people their age, while others have spouses and children and seek more family-oriented housing. Providing areas for these groups allows them to be a part of the community, she said.
“It’s nice to know that there’s a space designated just for you, and having space for graduate students would help to create more of a community,” Lindstrom said. “That community piece is really important. They feel more connected.”
But for students like Evans, the major issue involves a lack of affordable options.
“If creating graduate housing were to help with the affordability issue, I’d be all for it,” Evans said. “My living and social situation is perfectly acceptable, but most developers in College Park don’t aim to lower prices for anyone. They try to get as much money from students and their families as possible.”
However, there are some “administrative and technical issues” with creating exemption areas for graduate student housing, Brennan said.
“We’d have to hire a private developer, and there wouldn’t be a way not to discriminate against other parts of the population,” Brennan said. “And what developer would want to limit their audience to just graduate students?”
So far, all designated graduate student housing is on land owned by this university, and this might be the only place where it can exist, Brennan said. But while creating exemption units for graduate students will be a harder process, Brennan said the council plans to continue exploring ways to try to achieve this goal.
“It’s going to be difficult, but we want to figure out a way to do it, and because it’s such a hard thing to define, we don’t know if we’re going to be able to do it,” Brennan said. “We’re going to have to be creative.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story’s headline incorrectly stated that the City Council had abolished the student housing surcharge exemption areas. The council had voted to support the deletion of these exemption areas, as it does not have the authority to abolish them itself.