A possible deal with a third party for Eastern Michigan University student housing looms, yet the president of the university has stated that it might take a year before such a deal is finalized.
If a deal is reached it will be the third area of University operations to be negotiated with a third party at EMU. Private housing would come following the signing of a 10-year contract with Chartwells Dining that allowed a partnership with the university for on-campus dining services in 2016.
The dining contract was followed by the controversial 35-year contract with LAZ Parking that began in Fall 2018, privatizing campus parking operations. The contract with LAZ was met with significant discontent by students, staff, and faculty. Although a deal has not yet been reached for housing, it has been discussed by the faculty senate, Board of Regents and the president of the university.
A housing deal or partnership has been speculated for some time. The president of the university has, however, stated that “we would not privatize housing,” clarifying that the university would create a partnership with a third party instead.
After a decision by the university to not reopen Buell and Phelps residence halls for the fall semester of 2019, it has become apparent that the university is in an economic crunch for housing. The president is aware of the poor status of housing on campus, particularly heating and cooling. The closing of Buell and Phelps halls has come as part of a plan to consolidate campus housing in an effort to save money.
On a similar note, during the February 7 Board of Regents meeting, it was recommended that the board increase all university housing rates by 2.5 percent for the 2019-2020 academic year.
A university committee provided a recommendation in late February to President James Smith regarding how to best deliver on-campus housing. A deal to create a partnership for on-campus housing would come in the wake of limited university financial resources in order to offset financial shortfalls. A housing contract is compared with the university's notable contract with LAZ parking that allowed for the university to receive an up-front capital payment of $55 million.
The LAZ deal has, however, been met with distaste from many on campus due to the stringent parking enforcement practices enforced by LAZ parking, which has allowed for an increase of parking citations by 31.5 percent in the fall of 2018 compared to the fall of 2017. This translated to $225,278 in fines collected at EMU for parking citations during the fall 2018 semester. Student disapproval of the LAZ contract comes from what some believe was a lack of consideration of student needs and minimal discourse between the community and university administration.
To prevent a similar lack of consideration for student needs, the Student Senate passed Resolution 105-31, co-written by Senators Colton Ray, Luis Romero, and the former vice president, now Student Body President Ethan Smith. The resolution encourages transparency between the university administration and the university community regarding a housing deal; that is, transparency which some feel was not present with the LAZ contract. The resolution was able to pass 13-0. The president of the university has stated to the faculty senate that he would rather there be “no deal... than a bad deal” in regards to housing, noting that the contract with LAZ had its share of errors.
Student Body President Ethan Smith generally disagrees with the privatization of student housing, however, he has voiced that he is open to discussion if a deal were to be reached to achieve a “student-first solution."