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Regents approve UI's private contract for apartment complexes

BY STACEY MURRAY | MARCH 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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Affordable housing at the Hawkeye Court and Hawkeye Drive apartments likely won’t be quite as affordable next year.

The state Board of Regents passed its first contract with a private construction firm Wednesday, charging Dallas-based Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions with the task of replacing the aging apartments.  The replacement, however, will increase rent.

The apartment buildings, first occupied in the 1960s, primarily accommodate graduate students, international students, and students with families.

“It’s something that pains me, but this is our best option now,” UI Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin said. “I started this process saying we need to make it affordable, but it turns out it can’t be done.”

Rent at the current apartment complexes rests at roughly $450. No rent has been set for the future, but Balfour Beatty officials say it will be around “market rates.”

The UI researched three options before choosing to enter into a partnership with a private firm. 

The two other options included tasking the university with the remodeling — which was not financially feasible — or discontinuing family housing altogether.

Hawkeye Court currently holds 427 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Hawkeye Drive contains 160 two-bedroom apartments.

Under the new agreement, Balfour Beatty will build and operate 444 beds in a  270-unit apartment complex containing a mix of one- and two-bedroom units.

One UI teaching assistant went before the regents Wednesday to protest the agreement.

Brian Prugh, a graduate teaching assistant, said the increased rate will inevitably have an impact on his family.

Prugh said he currently pays $453 per month for his one-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife and two children. He said the increase will harm families like his who currently use 30 percent of their income on rent.

But he doesn’t deny the condition of the buildings.

“I understand the problems with the buildings — I live there,” Prugh said. “I respect the work they have done … I know it has been a long time coming. I know the buildings are in rough physical shape — I still maintain the proposal is flawed.”

Prugh said apartments in Iowa City that are comparable to those being built would cost an estimated $750, which is $300 more than he currently pays.

Officials acknowledged the state of the apartments, saying wear-and-tear has taken its toll, giving them their smaller price tag.

“These apartments are cheap because they need a lot of work and are paid off,” Rocklin said.

Despite known structural problems with the complex, Prugh said the UI would face more issues following an agreement with the private firm.

In Prugh’s opinion, while the private firm will still offer first choice to students with financial need, those students will no longer be able to afford the housing. When other students move in, it will benefit the company, but not needy students, he said.

“The situation would be a win for Balfour Beatty because the apartments are filled, but it would be a loss for the university,” he said.

UI officials acknowledged Prugh’s concerns, but said what they had to offer was indeed the best option.

“This has been a challenging project,” Rocklin said.  “The best option we could identify is the one we’re bringing you.”

As officials expressed reservations, they maintained the proposal would be in everyone’s best interest.

“You’ve delivered to us a solution you have to work with,” Regent President Craig Lang said. “I am pleased that you have gone to lengths to work with students, because this will be tough on them.”


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