Families to move out of Lincoln Apartments

By Mary Reines

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

In order to make room for a growing undergraduate population, the University of Massachusetts’ Residential Life has decided to move families out of Lincoln Apartments – located near the Southwest Residential Area – to make more room for graduate students and senior undergraduates.

“The decision for Lincoln was prompted by the decision to make more beds in the traditional residence halls for undergraduate students, given we were telling seniors and juniors they weren’t guaranteed housing,” said Dawn Bond, director of student services.

The decision has led to a host of changes including the raising of housing fees, roommate assignments and a reduction in the  availability of family housing – a resource that is always in high demand, according to Bond.

Approximately 30 families currently live in Lincoln Apartments, which are owned by UMass, according to Bond. All families must vacate by June 30, 2013.

To be considered for family housing, a student must be married or have at least one dependent.

Affected families have until Sunday, April 15, to decide if they want to move into North Village apartments – a University-owned apartment complex with 235 family spaces – or if they want to remain in Lincoln for one final year.

Families that desire to move to North Village will have priority, according to Bond.

“Essentially we are not working the wait list [for North Village apartments] at all,” said Bond. “Anyone on that wait list is not going to get housed until all of the Lincoln families are.”

The University will finance the moving process for Lincoln families that opt to live in North Village.

No new family housing will be built, according to Bond, who noted that family housing is always in high demand.

“The wait list for North Village and Lincoln has always been extensive,” said Bond. “There’s always way more demand for family housing than we have ever been able to provide.”

Lincoln Apartments are also scheduled to experience a significant price hike starting July 1, 2012, according to Bond, as the University worked to align the prices with that of traditional undergraduate housing.

According to a letter sent to Lincoln residents on March 29, the rent will increase for all of the three housing types offered in Lincoln starting July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

One bedroom apartments will increase from $688 a month to $725 a month, according to the letter. Two bedroom apartments will increase from $712 to $763.

While the third type of housing, studio apartments, were not mentioned in the letter, they will increase from $533 to approximately $800 a month, according to Bond. The studio apartments are currently undergoing renovations that are scheduled to be completed for spring 2013.

Families living in Lincoln during the 2012-2013 school year will have grandfathered pricing and experience no increase, but it will be cheaper for families to live in North Village, said Bond.

According to Bond, the rent increase aligns Lincoln with the other residence halls, something Residential Life felt was important since senior undergraduate students could potentially move into Lincoln starting in fall 2012.

“It needed to be comparable to what undergraduates are paying. We didn’t think it was fair for people with more privacy … to pay less than what a student in the traditional residence hall pays,” said Bond.

To illustrate how under market price the current rents are, Bond used the example of the studio apartments, which are one person living spaces that include a kitchen, private bathroom and a living and bedroom area. The space is currently valued at $535 a month.

According to Bond, a studio apartment would not even rent that cheaply in Sunderland, let alone Amherst.

Next year, it will be priced at approximately $800 a month, according to Bond.

Even with the new rent, North Apartments remain the most expensive housing option on campus, according to Bond.

However, the changes have drawn scrutiny from the Graduate Student Senate, which sees the fee hike as unnecessary.

“We have budgets from past years that show it [Lincoln] supports itself at the current rates,” said Graduate Student Senate Vice President Garth Schwellenbach. “They’re [the University] not providing anything more, they’re just making more than twice the amount of money off of students.”

Schwellenbach specifically pointed to the new payment system that will charge graduate students in the same way undergraduates are charged: per person instead of per unit. He asserted that this could help significantly increase the University’s revenue.

Residents in “under-occupied” apartments, meaning doubles that only one person lives in, will be assigned a roommate by the University, according to Bond.

One Lincoln resident, 41-year-old international graduate student Paulo Antunes, was upset by the rising costs.

“Off campus, the apartments are too expensive, and people like me, who came here with scholarships … the money is not enough to pay rent outside the campus and have money to eat,” said Antunes.

Graduate students – who usually take jobs as teaching assistants, research assistants or project assistants – get a minimum wage of $21.25 per hour, according to Schwellenbach. He also said that international graduate students are allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours per week, and their visas prevent them from being employed outside the University.

“They [U.S. students] can work off-campus too, whereas international students generally don’t have visas to work off-campus … they can’t get a side job waiting tables,” Graduate Student Senate Treasurer Robin Anderson said.

Additionally, members of the Graduate Student Senate claim that the administration violated the UMass Trustees’ rules on University policy-making by failing to consult with them prior to announcing the changes.

According to the Wellman Document, the UMass Board of Trustees statement on University governance, “The President, in concert with the Chancellors, will ensure that all appropriate components of the University have the opportunity to make recommendations prior to the establishment of policy.”

“They didn’t do that at all … they just sprung the decision on us and basically told the residents they have three weeks to decide what they’re going to do,” Schwellenbach said.

While Bond could not speak about why the Graduate Student Senate was not consulted, she said that she understands their concerns.

“I think the issue of the reduction of family apartments was a concern for them,” she said. “I think the rates are definitely a concern for them. Not being involved in the decision was a concern for them.”

On April 4, the Graduate Student Senate wrote a formal recommendation to Chancellor Robert Holub in which they criticized the changes to Lincoln Apartments. The group demanded that the new policy be suspended and that a committee of both administrators and graduate students be formed to evaluate the changes.

In the recommendation, they wrote, “We are disappointed that the University chose to make these vital decisions about graduate student life without the input of graduate students. These types of decisions coupled with lack of input will only foster distrust and resentment and impact the long term standing of the University.”

They requested a response by Friday, April 13.

If no action is taken, the recommendation said that the Senate would vote no confidence in Jean Kim, vice chancellor of student affairs and campus life, and Edward Hull, executive director of residential life.

The letter to residents set a time limit for current residents to move, giving them several housing options for next year, but ultimately saying that Lincoln residents must move out by June 30, 2013.

“We don’t have too much time to think or to do something,” said Antunes. “From my perspective, they didn’t respect [us] … if they want to change the policy … they must give [us] some more time.”

Antunes continued to say that he disagreed with the changes.

“We are [a] minority here. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy. They can do everything they want with us,” he said.

The changes are a result of the current housing shortage, said Bond. She explained that this semester about 45 graduate students are housed in Cashin, which is located in Sylvan Residential Area. During the 2011 fall semester, about 80 graduate students were housed in the primarily undergraduate dormitory.

In order to move the graduate students out of the dorms to make more room for undergrads, ResLife decided to make changes to the structure of Lincoln Apartments and stop housing graduate students in Cashin.

Bond discussed how the changes might affect living options for University undergraduates.

Lincoln Apartments will first be opened up to graduate students, but if all the spaces are not filled by the summer housing registration, then the opening will be made available to senior undergraduate students, according to Bond.

The community will be a 24-hour quiet community, with strict noise violation policies, as the apartments border the houses of Amherst residents.

“Students who choose to live over there will be expected to be really respectful, awesome neighbors for the residents that live adjacent to that complex,” said Bond.

To help with this, Bond plans to house graduate students on the perimeter of the complex with undergraduates living closer to the Southwest Residential Area.

A Daily Collegian report from the fall of 2008 described a similar situation in which University Housing threatened to “evict residents who refused to sign the North Village and Lincoln Apartments’ new lease,” which included “a 6 percent increase in rent.” Those changes were met with a protest by tenants outside the Whitmore Administration Building.

Mary Reines can be reached at [email protected]. Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected].