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Thursday May 19th

Graduate students struggle to find housing

Maggie Morgan-Smith, a graduate anthropology student, commutes from Raleigh to campus due to a lack of available housing.
Buy Photos Maggie Morgan-Smith, a graduate anthropology student, commutes from Raleigh to campus due to a lack of available housing.

The Graduate is an apartment complex geared primarily toward UNC’s graduate student population. The Chapel Hill Town Council approved a special use permit for the project Monday.

The Graduate is a seven-story complex that would be located downtown at 105 Kenan St.

Maggie Morgan-Smith, a UNC Ph.D. candidate in the anthropology department, said she encountered problems when she and her husband first made the move to Chapel Hill from Atlanta in 2008.

“There were options,” Morgan-Smith said. “But we sort of felt like the apartment complexes were geared to undergrads and the rental housing market was difficult to navigate.”

Many student apartments downtown have been designed to accommodate single bedroom leases to suit undergraduate students’ needs, said Jay Patel, project manager of The Graduate.

“In grad student settings, they’re a little older and may have families,” Patel said. “They may prefer some privacy.”

He said The Graduate would sign leases for entire apartments instead of single bedrooms.

Morgan-Smith said she and her husband first chose to live at Glen Lennox Apartments, but it was inconvenient because she could not walk to campus.

When rent prices at Glen Lennox went up, she and her husband decided to buy a home.

“Finding something convenient that didn’t need a ton of renovations was impossible,” she said.

Morgan-Smith now lives in Durham with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

“It just was not really an option to live in Chapel Hill,” she said. “In Durham we can have a house for half the price that doesn’t need renovations versus living in a Cracker Jack box in Chapel Hill. The options in Chapel Hill aren’t geared toward families or graduate students who aren’t willing to live with five roommates, and it’s something that really needs to be addressed.”

Having a new complex just for graduate students would be a step in the right direction, Morgan-Smith said.

Brandon Linz, another UNC graduate student who serves on the Graduate and Professional Student Federation’s executive board, said when it comes to convenience and affordability, graduate students can have either one or the other.

Linz said it took him approximately two months to find housing, and he now lives in Carrboro.

“It would be nicer to live closer to campus,” Linz said. “I’m a lab researcher, so I’m (there) at all hours of the night.”

Linz said some graduate students are forced to live places that aren’t on the bus line.

“Some people have to do a 10 to 15 minute bike ride to get to a park and ride,” he said.

The majority of graduate students probably live in Carrboro, said Shelby Dawkins-Law, president of the GPSF executive board.

Many single graduate students who do not receive financial support from their parents are living off teaching stipends, which average around $15,200, Dawkins-Law said.

According to a PowerPoint presentation created by the former GPSF president, Kiran Bhardwaj, and former GPSF secretary, JoEllen McBride, UNC’s stipends falls, on average, $5,600 short of living wages in Orange County when fees are considered.

UNC’s on-campus housing at Baity Hill is available to students with families or to graduate students but is expensive and inconvenient, Dawkins-Law said.

“Even if you do live there, the buses don’t go back there, so you’re extremely isolated from campus,” she said.

Even so, Rick Bradley, the associate director of UNC Housing and Residential Education, said Baity Hill is nearly full every school year.

“I would say at most we have had five empty spaces,” Bradley said.

Dawkins-Law said The Graduate would be a convenient option but might be too pricey for graduate students.

“You might be saving money from commuting, but it has to balance out in the end,” she said.

Dawkins-Law said she thinks that while most housing is built with undergraduate students in mind, graduate students could be very desirable tenants.

“We could stay in the housing we rent for four, five, sometimes even eight years,” Dawkins-Law said.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Lee Storrow said at a recent council meeting he generally supports the concept of having more residences and people living downtown.

“I personally believe that we have a need to increase housing options for both undergrads and young professionals in downtown Chapel Hill,” Storrow said. “The limit on supply has led to very high prices.”

This has also led to a number of landlords being able to turn a substantial profit by converting single-family homes into student rentals, Storrow said.

GPSF Student Family Advocate Lindsey Marie West Wallace said students with families have a much more difficult time finding housing.

The Graduate was originally geared toward undergraduates but is now geared towards graduate students because Patel said he did not see many other apartments doing that.

“Just looking at what offerings are already available, we realized there wasn’t a high quality product,” Patel said.

“It’s a good chance to provide something that wasn’t already offered.”

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