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USF Housing rate hikes surprise students

While a timeline is not currently available, demolition of the current Andros Complex is expected to begin over summer. The construction plan will result in an increase in the number of students able to live on campus. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Students who applied for on-campus housing for the 2016-2017 academic year may have been shocked when USF Housing and Residential Education released the tentative new housing rates.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, a two-bedroom apartment in Holly would cost a student over $900 a month. With this coming year’s rate increases, five styles of on-campus living have broken that $900 mark.

While halls like Beta and Castor have increased in monthly cost by $23.50, rooms in Juniper-Poplar have increased by $121.50.

The fact that the change isn’t even across the board bothers students. Sophia Escalante, a sophomore majoring in psychology who plans on moving to Cypress next semester.

“I’m a little upset that certain places were raised a little bit, while Cypress was raised by 17 percent,” Escalante said. “I now have to pay $624 more than what I wanted to pay, and I’m upset for that.”

USF housing rates have gone up only once in the last four years, according to Housing and Residential Education Vice President Ana Hernandez. The increase was long overdue, she feels, and is necessary to meeting costs associated with running housing, such as mortgages on buildings, maintenance and utilities.

“We have been fortunate enough to have very high occupancy for the last several years, which has helped us meet some of those obligations, but we are coming to the point where we may not be able to meet our debt obligations, which is a very significant matter,” Hernandez said.

The increase can also be tied to the fewer beds USF will have available on campus in the next few years during construction of the new Andros Complex. While those beds will be going away, housing retains the same debt obligations as before, according to Hernandez. 

Construction costs for the new complex are unrelated to the rate increase, as those costs are part of a public-private partnership USF has.

For those students who are concerned about the increase, Hernandez understands that the increase come as a surprise.

The new rates have to be approved by the Board of Trustees (BOT) and won’t have final approval until May. The current rates are pending, as determined at a Finance and Audit work group of the BOT. 

After receiving these tentative rates, Housing worked to release them to students, although they were not released before the housing application deadline.

“We wanted to make sure that students were aware that was the proposal that was being considered,” Hernandez said. 

However, Kyle Peters, a freshman majoring in computer science, saw a lack of transparency in the late release.

“I don’t like the increase,” Peters said. “I lived on campus this year and it’s just not right to hike up the prices without really being transparent with their current residents.”

As students determine whether or not to seek lodging elsewhere, Housing has extended the cancellation deadlines without penalty to May 6 — the end of the semester. 

If students are having trouble paying rent, Hernandez encourages them to look at cheaper rooms on campus. Over 2,000 bed spaces will be available for less than $3,000 a semester.

“We were really trying to be very intentional to make sure that we maintained a variety of price points along with a variety of configurations on campus, so we’re hoping that students are able to find something that best suits their needs,” Hernandez said.

Off-campus housing is also available, but those prices can fluctuate. Hernandez anticipates students currently with USF housing applications will pursue other options in off-campus housing.

No students will be forced to pay these rates, however, as USF has terminated its first-year on-campus living requirement, as of Spring 2016. However, Hernandez wants as many people as possible to take advantage of residential living at USF.

“We believe that the facilities and support that we offer is of great value and helps them be connected, helps support their academic success, and so we would really want them to continue to give us serious consideration, but we recognize that students are making choices and they need to make the choices that are the best for them,” Hernandez said.

Some students, like Caroline Jackson, a freshman majoring in women and gender studies, aren’t buying into the benefits of on-campus housing given the increase.

“It’s really frustrating,” Jackson said. “Living on campus is advertised as the best choice for our education. But with the increase I don’t see how this is supposed to be beneficial.”

According to Hernandez, infrastructure and aesthetic investments in current on-campus residences are part of Housing’s plans for the future. Those plans also include a three-year rate increase in order to balance out the shrinking capacity of on-campus housing with the new Andros construction.