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Author: Su Yim
Posted: September 4, 2012

 

Campus housing is transforming the student experience.

THIS FALL, student housing at Portland State grows up.

With the opening of University Pointe, a privately owned, 16-story building, PSU now offers 3,000 beds—the most student housing of any Portland-area college and a 50 percent increase from last year.

University Pointe joins 10 existing residence halls, including the Broadway, which opened in 2004 through a unique partnership with the PSU Foundation. University Pointe, built on land leased from PSU, and the Broadway both offer some spectacular views of the Willamette River, the West Hills, and south downtown.

This newest partnership in student housing marks a turning point for the University: now, up to 10 percent of Portland State’s 29,000-student body can live on campus.

A snapshot of student housing reveals that freshmen make up the biggest chunk of on-campus residents, at 27 percent, while seniors come in second. About 18.5 percent of residents are international students, and 17.5 percent of all international students live on campus. PSU rent for single occupancy housing is comparable to off-campus units at $915 for an unfurnished apartment.

Originally, campus housing started in historic buildings such as Montgomery Court, the University’s oldest residence hall, which was built in 1920 and acquired by PSU in 1971. These older buildings remain popular with PSU students, but today, University Housing does more than provide a room it offers special programming and housing options that match students’ interests.

FIRST-YEAR STUDENTS interested in wellness can live on a themed health floor in the Ondine with programming designed to build a community around active, healthy lifestyles. Residents have volunteered with the campus blood drive and learned how to develop healthy habits in a college environment. Themed floors exist for students who want a substance-free community, intercultural experience, or service learning opportunities. Last year, cultural awareness floor residents participated in Martin Luther King, Jr., celebration events and attended cultural shows on campus. One-third of freshmen, or about 200 students, chose to live on a themed floor.

Student Marilynn Sandoval (left photo), who moved from Nevada to attend PSU last year as a freshman, decided to live on the science, technology, engineering, and math floor in the Broadway. There, she found help and support that made a difference for her academically and personally, including resident assistants who were able to give her tips in general chemistry because they had taken the same class in the past.

During stressful times throughout her first year away from home, she leaned on her dorm mates.

“I got through it because I had people,” Sandoval says. “The residents become your family. They’re going through the same thing.”

Photos above: PSU’s newest student housing building, University Pointe, is owned by American Campus Communities, which builds student housing nationwide. The company spent $90 million on the residence hall built on land leased from PSU for the next 65 years.

Living history

How student housing started at Portland State.

IN 1969, New Seasons cofounder Stan Amy was a Portland State student trying to live in south downtown, without much success. He’d already been evicted twice as housing in the area disappeared under the wrecking ball of urban renewal. After the third eviction, Amy, an urban studies major, decided to look for a solution.

He helped organize an independent study course, sponsored by Professor Sumner Sharpe, to explore the need for student housing at what was then Portland State College (PSC). In those days, there was no housing owned or run by the College. Amy and other students found that the need was huge and suggested that PSC convince the Portland Development Commission to save nine apartment buildings near campus that were scheduled for demolition as part of urban renewal. Since the 1950s, the commission had been busy transforming south downtown through urban renewal. Demolition in the area directly around campus had started in 1968 as a result of a federal program that set aside urban renewal dollars for colleges and universities. PSC had applied to the program years earlier in anticipation of expansion. Former students remember those years as a time of noise, dust, and, in the case of Amy and others, displacement.

WHILE THE IDEA of saving area apartment buildings made sense to many, contractual issues and state legislators created a tight knot of red tape around the idea. Suddenly, what started out as a class turned into a full-fledged campaign. Students sent hundreds of postcards, provided by Professor Sumner’s class, to the governor and to the State Board of Higher Education.

After hearings and compromises, the nine apartment buildings were put under the management of Portland Student Services, a nonprofit corporation formed by the enterprising Amy, and fellow students Tony Barsotti, Dick Solomon ’69, and John Werneken ’77. Working with local business leaders, they procured two $5,000 loans for the new company and by 1970, managed 287 units in eight of the buildings. Monthly rent for a one-bedroom was $78. Years later, the company was renamed College Housing NW and managed all of PSU’s student housing.

Since then, housing on campus has changed significantly. PSU now operates and manages all of its buildings, except for the new University Pointe. However, some things remain the same: Six of the original nine buildings still house students today. 

Su Yim, a former graduate assistant in the PSU Office of University Communications, wrote “Seeing Autism” in the spring 2012 Portland State Magazine.

Photo captions: A group of enterprising students, including Stan Amy (top), saved buildings marked for demolition, and managed them as student housing. Photos from the 1969 Viking Yearbook.