CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to better reflect that the city council is working on a need-based pilot program for student housing and to clarify the reasons for Stuart Adams’ support for two-year council member terms.
Two incumbents and one new candidate will vie for College Park’s District 3 city council seat in the city’s upcoming election on Nov. 5.
In a campaign where candidates have emphasized the importance of student voters, each District 3 contestant is working to build support from University of Maryland students and full-time city residents. District 3 represents a student-heavy area of the city, encompassing Fraternity Row, the Old Town neighborhood and multiple student apartment complexes.
Council members John Rigg and Stuart Adams are the only two elected incumbents on the ballot who are facing a challenger. Perez Abbott, a seven-year College Park resident who works for Prince George’s County in the workforce development field, is looking to defeat one of them.
“I live in a fairly student-heavy neighborhood,” Rigg said. “I take that extremely seriously.”
Rigg added that he’s largely connected with students and heard their priorities on social media because of restrictions on door-knocking on campus.
The November election will include a ballot advisory question on whether residents think council members should serve staggered four-year terms — an issue that’s garnered concern from some students at this university, who say the potential switch would leave them with less of a say in their council representation. Currently, council members serve two-year terms.
Rigg is an advocate for four-year terms and feels it would allow council members to focus more on their work.
“It feels like a hamster wheel,” Rigg said. “[With] every other year being an election year, you wind up with a lot of distractions. Council members, especially on certain hot button issues, act differently in an election year then they would if it was not an election year.”
Adams said he supports two-year terms because he wants council members to be able to reevaluate their decisions on serving more frequently.
“It’s a lot of work,” Adams said. “I’m very comfortable committing to another two years, and in two years from now, I’ll evaluate.”
Abbott also wants terms to stay at two years, citing a need for the council to frequently connect with constituents. Council members can do a better job of improving voter turnout and engaging community members, Abbott said.
If the council opted to institute four-year terms after looking at the results of November’s advisory question, Rigg said, he would not necessarily run for a council seat again if that would make his constituents feel more comfortable.
The District 3 candidates have also spoken out on student housing — an issue that’s garnered attention in recent years as rent prices in neighborhoods surrounding this university have increased.
Rebecca Navarro, a senior public policy and statistics major who is registered to vote in the city and lives in District 3, said she would like to see the council prioritize providing rent subsidies for students. Council members should work with landlords who offer off-campus leases to students to ensure that their prices are fair, she added.
“Apartment prices are just absolutely ridiculous,” Navarro said.
Abbott said he wants to see students stay in the city beyond their university years.
“[I want to] partner with our student population so they can choose to make College Park a permanent home versus choosing other places in our region,” Abbott said.
College Park resident Diego Henriquez, a freshman environmental science and technology major, mentioned how the high prices for student housing in the city have created dangerous situations for students. Henriquez is registered to vote in the city and said he wants council members to make housing issues a priority.
“You have five people all living in one house just to afford rent,” Henriquez said. “It’s very expensive here in College Park.”
Rigg also considers affordable student housing a high-priority issue and hopes to provide a rental subsidy for students and other “economically vulnerable residents.”
Adams said the council is working on a needs-based student housing pilot program that could make the first month of rent free and waive application fees for students in the city.
He also said council members hope to implement policies that retain businesses in the city while supporting new housing developments that could help lower student rents.
Adams said he hopes his work on student issues will help garner support as November approaches.
“Every time I put forward a vote I am considering the fact that I represent my district,” Adams said. “That is something I don’t take lightly.”