The role of residency: City, university discuss housing issues in Ames

Ryan Pattee

Housing is such an essential part of one’s life. It can be all-encompassing and even affect one’s well-being if placed or dealing with a bad situation.

Brittney Rutherford, marketing coordinator for Iowa State, said when it comes to this, “You first have to look at physical appearance [of the housing] to make sure it accommodates the students and that aligned with state and university codes.

“When it comes to the student themselves, we educate and have the student wellness office. We make sure there plans are in place for students incase of an emergency.”

And Iowa State is no stranger to accommodating for students.

“Since 2008, demand for on-campus student housing has grown about 58 percent at the time when enrollment typically was at 40 percent. We only had 7,900 people living on campus (In 2008) the lowest it had been since 1981,” Peter Englin, Director of Residence at Iowa State, said.

When Iowa State had a surprising 58 percent increase of students in 2008, is when having room for students on campus became a problem.

In order to combat this, Iowa State needed to make some quick adjustments, such as building a new residence hall of Lincoln Way now recognized as Geoffrey Hall. ISU West no longer renting through the university it seems that struggling to find housing on campus has finally come to a temporary stop.

Accommodating housing for students is not as large a problem as it was back in 2008, and according to Rutherford, and neither is getting students the help they need.

“There’s help on the Iowa State website with many different avenues to helps ISU students use the resources and come to talk to us. If you’re having issues they can be easily solved, and students can easily be helped. Please talk to us, our staff, we have departments to help you,” Rutherford said.

This raises the question, however, what about student’s off campus — the ones who do not live in the jurisdiction of Iowa State?

“Our role is to come in and help someone if they need a place to live. There are some resources that the university can help with, but not with the housing department,” Rutherford said.

Student Legal Services is the proper place to go if a student is having issues with housing off-campus.

Englin listed some other issues students may run into, as well.

“In our case, if a student lives with shortage of money and they come to us. (If the leases are run through Iowa State) we will release them from their contract,” Englin said. “If they are off-campus and they’ve signed a lease…there is very little we can do.”

“What we will often do is refer them to Student Legal Services to see if there is anything in the lease agreement that they signed with someone else to see if it gives them any sort of flexibility and latitude.”

Another thing Englin says Iowa State does is to try and help find the source of a student’s financial struggles.

“We try to get the departments together and try to put a package together to help them financially. If a student is struggling with rent then they’re struggling with tuition, and if they’re struggling with tuition then they’re struggling buying books, and if they’re struggling buying books then they’re struggling with class,” Englin said.

Many students choose off-campus because they feel it may be cheaper or will have more independence than on-campus. Englin negated this.

“We have a number of different price points on campus, and I would argue if you look at some of those apartment communities you can’t find cheaper housing in the Ames community,” Englin said.

Englin also touched on a new law passed by the state legislature this year which deemed a current Ames housing ordinance unconstitutional.

Currently, the city of Ames limits the number of people in rental units to one family or three unrelated people.

Due to the state law, the current ordinance will be moot after Jan. 1, 2018 when the state enforces that cities may not restrict occupancy based on familial or non-familial status.

“Now, it will be interesting to see the changes that the state made around how many unrelated people can live in a residence,” Englin said. “Because there are times in our history at Iowa State you might have five, six, seven, eight people living in a house they all rent. You know they’re putting $150 toward that. They changed that to [three] people living in a building, but what does that mean for the future?”

Steve Schainker, Ames city manager, said they are currently trying to figure that out.

“The talks now are, do we want to put any limits on, and if they do what would you limit? Will it be based on whether you’re related or not. Should we do it to a set number? These are just a few options we can propose to city council,” Schainker said.

“There is student legal services to help students, and rental housing code that landowners have to have. If not then renters can call city council so they can correct it or get fined,” he said.