Facing a housing crunch

University Terrace residents must find alternate housing by December as University Hospital plans to build a parking garage
Tuesday, April 25, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:26 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In order to make room for a University Hospital parking garage, residents of University Terrace Apartments, mainly international students with children, were told Friday that they must find alternative housing by December.

AnnaMaria Csizmadia, who has helped organize residents who will have to leave, said the relocation plans will be costly and inconvenient. “They should not have us move out in the middle of winter, in the middle of an academic school year,” she said.

The parking garage is part of the hospital’s master plan, which includes a surgical tower and patient care facility being built on the site of the parking garage on the east side of the hospital.

Frankie Minor, MU’s director of Residential Life, said his office has known for many years that the university was discussing how to use the land but didn’t hear about concrete plans until early March. At that point, he said, Residential Life thought it had until summer of 2007 before residents would have to leave.

“The problem is, we had little information about the hospital’s master plan and timeline of construction,” Minor said. “We couldn’t plan on speculation and tentative plans.”

As of January, Terrace Apartments had 118 contracts with students, and 77 percent of them are from other countries. With spouses, roommates and children, about 246 people live in the apartment complex.

Many of the residents don’t have the time or money to relocate, said Csizmadia, a single parent and international doctoral student. She also said that moving to another apartment — even if it’s on campus — will require some children to attend different public schools.

The MU Office of Residential Life is no longer taking applications for the three other University apartment complexes -- University Village, University Heights and Manor House ­— in an effort to provide on-campus living accommodations for those getting displaced from University Terrace Apartments.

Minor said the number of spots that will be available in the other complexes is not yet known and there is a chance that Terrace residents may have to go off-campus for housing. A survey is being sent out to identify upcoming vacancies at the other MU apartment complexes.

In hopes of obtaining more vacancies, Residential Life is trying to let the University Terrace residents remain in place until January 15. They are also encouraging single graduate students, who Minor said have more options, to move into smaller apartments in order to create more room for families.

“It’s unfortunate that there are not more options in the Columbia market for families,” Minor said.

International students often don’t have cars, Csizmadia said, and moving off campus would present a hardship.

“This apartment complex is part of a university that prides itself on diversity,” she said. “Yet, they are alienating their international students.”

James and Rebecca Bryce, who live in Terrace Apartments, said they heard rumors before moving in nine months ago that the complex was in line for demolition and asked if they were true.

“They told us that we didn’t need to worry about it for at least two to three more years,” Rebecca Bryce said. “So we moved in, painted, decorated, and now we just have to move out again.”

Because the couple doesn’t have children, the only other University apartment complex they qualify for is Manor House, which costs $200 more a month. “They didn’t even give us any time to plan and save up,” she said.

Legally, MU only needs to give residents 30 days to end their month-to-month leases, Minor said.

Terrace Apartments resident Peter Chege said there is more at stake than time and money. “It’s not apartments they are tearing down, it’s a community,” he said.

These kinds of communities are important for international students because they don’t have families here and need the support, Csizmadia said. Some residents in Terrace Apartments can’t speak English, so there is a list of phone numbers they can call if a translator is needed. These type of resources can’t be easily found off-campus, Loise Wambuguh, apartment manager, said.

Chege noted that MU is building new residential halls but hasn’t built any new apartments. “I had to wait a whole year to live here,” Xiaohue Chen, another resident, said.

“They not only should leave Terrace alone, but should build new apartments as well.”

That is something that Residential Life has been exploring for a couple years, Minor said, adding that rates for new apartments would increase significantly — just as it has for residential halls.

“We know that our apartment residents don’t have as much family support as our dorm residents, so price is a much bigger issue,” he said. “Mizzou isn’t the only university struggling with this issue.”

Residential Life doesn’t have exact plans on how to help with the transition for those living in Terrace Apartments, Minor said. But for those moving to another on-campus apartment, he anticipates some form of relocation aid, such as curb to curb service. Minor doubts, however, that MU will be able to help those who move off campus.

Residential Life is holding an informational meeting at 7:30 tonight in Bryant Auditorium at the University Hospital to discuss details of the move and who should get priority for on-campus housing.

“Although we have some ideas, we plan on discussing everything with residents,” Minor said. “We want them to know that although we don’t have control over what’s happening, we are trying to help them as much as we can.”

Residents, meanwhile, are preparing a petition to save the Terrace Apartments and hope to influence members of the UM system’s governing board in advance of a July decision on the parking garage.

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