Restrict rental price increases at Aspire at West Campus
In 2014, new apartment buildings were opened to graduate students, staff, and faculty in the housing project at Hawkeye Court. This new development was called "Aspire at West Campus." Instead of being managed by the University of Iowa, this community became privately constructed and managed by Balfour Beatty Group.
From the old Hawkeye Court to the new "Aspire," prices rose over 100%. Originally, residents paid around $435 for a 1-bedroom apartment. Suddenly, they were being asked to pay $875 by Balfour Beatty.
Unfortunately, these atmospheric rental price increases have only continued. Over the last two years, rental prices have risen about 12% -- far exceeding Consumer Price Index (CPI) and inflation rates. More importantly, these hikes have been greater than the percentage increase for graduate student stipends. In the same period, graduate students have seen a 1% and 3% bump in pay.
Next year's leases have just begun. Balfour Beatty is now charging $999 per month (nearly $12,000 per year) for a 1-bedroom apartment. This represents about a 130% increase from the old Hawkeye Court 1-bedroom to now. And even more astounding, students would pay an average $60,000 in rent alone over the course of a 5-year Ph.D. -- if prices hold constant.
When the building first opened, an entire community was affected. International students, young families, and people of color -- by in large -- left. They couldn't afford the new prices set forth by a private company. Today, even more groups of lower income students might face the effects of gentrification on the University of Iowa's campus. And others -- like people with disabilities -- have nowhere else to go.
Fundamentally, Aspire at West Campus is redefining graduate student housing into a wealthy elite apartment complex intended for those who make more than a fixed, annual, half-time stipend. They've made apartment complexes for graduate students, but the graduate students cannot afford them.
Over the coming months and years, Balfour Beatty intends to open two more massive complexes on the campus. They will likely open Phase 2 next fall -- four-story apartments beside the current ones. And then demolish the current Hawkeye Drive apartments. In their place will be another group of luxury apartments not fit for graduate incomes, but made for those making full five-figure incomes.
We are worried about the predatory leasing practices and misappropriation of public lands for private gain. We are worried about gentrification in our campus community to vulnerable populations. And we are worried that this privatization and profiting off of students will continue.
Today, we are advocating for specific, concrete plans to help prevent further gentrification and ensure that graduate students have affordable housing on campus. Please consider the following specific action plans that we would like the University of Iowa administration, faculty/staff, and Balfour Beatty company to consider:
1. Restrict Aspire at West Campus from raising rental rates beyond graduate assistantship salary increases. For instance, if COGs bargains with Iowa for a 1% increase in graduate student stipends, Aspire at West Campus is limited to a 1% increase in rent.
2. Restrict rent costs to 30% of the half-time stipend. If followed, that would equate to $468 dollars per month (from $18720 per year). Unfortunately, the current rent costs of $999 per month represent an astounding 64% of income for those on a half-time assistantship.
3. Restrict portion of residents who are faculty/staff to graduate students. Currently, there are no stipulations that prevent Aspire at West Campus from solely recruiting and catering to faculty and staff. Thus, more and more graduate students are being pushed out.
4. Restrict superfluous costs associated with community. For example, instead of printing out high-gloss and color flyers, please email us with notifications. Additionally, please stop holding raffles and giveaways, which increase the rental costs for everyone. Few of us can even attend.
5. Restrict building costs and development of the new Hawkeye Drive complex and limit rental prices. Furthermore, the current Hawkeye Drive community members should have first priority to newly built apartments.
-Concerned residents and community members of Aspire and the greater Iowa City areas
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