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USF proposes housing rate increases

Students who plan to live on campus in the next academic year may want to start saving a little extra cash – again.

The 2010-11 Housing Rate Proposal asks for a 6 percent increase in costs. If approved by the Finance and Audit Workgroup on Thursday, the USF Board of Trustees will make the final decision March 18.

The housing rates rose by 8 percent in the last two academic years. Rising utility costs, debt payments and facility infrastructure issues are among the reasons why an increase is needed in the upcoming year, said USF Dean of Housing and Residential Education Ana Hernandez.

The $65 million Juniper-Poplar Residence Hall, which opened last semester, sparked some debt and the need for an increase, Hernandez said.

In the proposal, the Andros residence halls, which cost $4,048 per year, would receive the smallest percentage increase – an estimated 5.53 percent to raise rent costs to $4,272 a year.

The biggest change – a 6.93 percent increase – would go to the Maple Suites, which cost $4,384 a year. The rent would be raised to $4,688 per year.

An increase will help build reserve funds for future problems that may occur and upcoming renovations to the Andros area, Hernandez said. Annually, campus housing collects about $24 million to $25 million in rent, she said.

Hernandez said a definitive timeline isn’t set for the renovations because there is an extensive amount of planning left to be done.

“We wouldn’t raise rates unless it was fiscally responsible to do (so),” Hernandez said. “We’re going to try to address the ongoing issues and continue to try to address plumbing issues, electricity and air-handling units … We are looking at trying to re-carpet some areas and add TVs to Holly lounges.”

Associate Director of Facilities and Maintenance, Kelly Best said the dorms are in “definite” need of repair.

“The Andros complex is the oldest complex we have and is in need of renovation,” Best said.

Eileen Vazquez, a sophomore majoring in psychology and a resident of Zeta Hall in the Andros complex, said she sees the need for a renovation.

“It’s OK for what we get for our money, but it needs to be redone or knocked down and rebuilt,” she said.

Paolo Garcia, a freshman majoring in biology and a Juniper-Poplar resident, said the increase in housing costs is fair.

“It is a good idea to renovate, and they need to get the money from somewhere,” he said. “Once (Andros) is renovated, it will be worth it.”

The University also proposes to increase its number of beds, Hernandez said. Right now, there are 5,347 beds, but USF will add another 1,000 if the proposal passes.

Though it may be cheaper to live off campus, Hernandez said the benefits of living on campus are important, especially for incoming freshmen.

Freshmen must live on campus unless they sign an exemption form verifying at least one of the following: they are over 21 years old on the first day of classes in their first semester, they are married, they have dependent family under their care or they live in Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas counties with their legal guardians, according to the housing Web site.

“It is true that when you go dollar to dollar to off campus apartments, our rent would be higher, but we believe that it is a completely different experience,” Hernandez said. “There are great benefits to living on campus.”

Arranging study groups, readily available dining and many wellness activities are some of the perks, she said. Housing opened up the application process early this year and has received 200 more applications than this time last year, Hernandez said.

“We’re very cognitive that the cost has a significant impact on students,” she said. “We have the desire to remain accessible and affordable.”

But Hernandez said rates could increase in the future.

“The experience is what they’re paying for,” she said.