Expensive housing may explain high tuition rates

Illustration by Serina Mercado
Illustration by Serina Mercado

By J.B. Evans

The Guardsman

Students lucky and deter­mined enough to pursue higher education must choose from a narrow and paltry variety of financial options, including the rare chance of receiving a schol­arship, the demand of taking out exorbitant student loans or the reliance upon their parent to front the bill.

Whichever route students choose, they will find that this road leads to dire, debilitating debt for themselves, their families and their local communities.

Popular opinion tends to blame rising tuition costs as the primary reason most students struggle to pay for college. Although this opinion has merit, it glazes over the fact that modern affordable housing trends play a major role in driving up college tuition costs.

Look at what San Francisco State University students have to pay for housing.

According to the SFSU website, a student’s 2013-2014 living costs were estimated to total $17,378. Of that amount, $12,756 went toward paying for on or off campus housing.

This is a very high number, especially for students that may barely be able to purchase books.
Of course, this statistic does not address why housing costs so much for SFSU students. Most students have no idea that their housing decisions directly impact the communities in which they choose to live and study.

SFSU sits immediately adja­cent to a residential neighborhood known as Parkmerced, which remains one of the most original transit-oriented developments in San Francisco. It represents the last of the city’s high-density, open-space, affordable housing developments.

In the 1940s, an architect named Thomas Dolliver Church designed Parkmerced and estab­lished communal green-space living as a modern model for affordable housing.

After decades of rotating ownership, a businessman named Robert Rosania took control of Parkmerced in 2010 and sold much of its property to SFSU.

Since then, Rosania and SFSU have introduced plans to raise all of the original low-rise townhouse in Parkmerced.

This plan will displace many longtime residents currently living in Parkmerced, as well as disrupt the daily lives of SFSU students.

“This area used to be for the tenant,’ Aaron Goodman said, a member of the San Francisco Tomorrow and an expert on Parkmerced. “It was one of the amenities of the community. And by taking it all away, people don’t have the spaces they used to have when they had children here.’

Shockingly, most students do not know that the wheels have already been set in motion that will wipe out their historic neigh­borhood.

“They pretty much let it rot,’ Goodman said, referring to one of the many undeveloped lots that SFSU purchased from Park­merced. “SF State has a project proposal for this site, but they’ve turned it into an empty lot until they do their future project.’Likewise, do they understand that the proposed new develop­ment in Parkmerced will rent at high unaffordable market rates, nor do they have any idea of the extent to which their school has dramatically changed the land­scape of Parkmerced.

Students need to think more about how their housing decisions affect not only the rising costs of tuition, but also the long-term costs of community displacement.

If students become better stewards of their communities and work to preserve low-cost affordable housing, then perhaps they may also discover the best solutions to reducing the tuition costs that are crippling the institu­tion of higher learning in the U.S.

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