ANNUAL REPORT OF THE SENATE HOUSING POLICY COMMITTEE 2003-2004

 

1. This year the Committee underwent the most important formal change in its history, when it ceased to be a presidentially appointed committee and officially became a Senate Committee by a Senate vote of November 14, 2003.

2. The Committee periodically discussed complaints about faculty waiting lists for IRE housing. The anecdotal evidence still suggests that young faculty with children have sometimes had to wait for very long periods to obtain apartments of acceptable size. The Deputy Vice-President for Institutional Real Estate Bill Scott was able to provide details of the forthcoming additions to the IRE housing stock (most immediately 53 apartments at 455 CPW), which suggest that by fall 2004 the problem will be somewhat alleviated (if faculty demand for Morningside housing does not increase drastically).

3. The Committee discussed reports of moderately increased crime levels in certain areas where university housing is concentrated. The Deputy Vice-President for IRE informed the Committee that IRE monitors local crime patterns, and undertook to stay vigilant for the possible need to increase security precautions.

4. The Committee considered reports of a shortage of post-doc housing, affecting science and engineering post-docs in particular. The chair of the committee polled several department chairs and found some serious local problems. The Deputy Vic-President for IRE agreed to try to help.

5. The Committee debated at length a motion intended to encourage the office of IRE to bring about a greater concentration of General Studies students in certain apartment houses, in recognition of the greater cohesiveness of a considerable part of the General Studies student body. Thanks are due in particular to Matan Ariel (GS, Student) for crafting successive versions of the resolution, which was eventually passed by the Senate at its meeting of April 30, 2004. (For the text, see Annex 1).

6. The Committee considered housing aspects of the Manhattanville development, and thanks Vice-President Marc Burstein for an informative discussion of the subject.

7.1. The reason why this report is late has to do with the last and most contentious subject the Committee discussed, namely the rent increases that will be imposed on IRE tenants in 2004. Because of the vagaries of the university budget process, the Deputy Vice-President for IRE was unable to provide us with enough figures for a full discussion of this issue prior to the academic year's last meeting of the Senate. The Committee felt extremely frustrated, even before it came to the substantive matter at issue, with the fact that the central administration in effect hampered the timely ventilation in the Committee and in the Senate of a matter that is of great concern to very many members of the university community.

7.2. The immediate situation is that IRE intends to impose a 3.9% average increase in rents for faculty and staff, 3.75% for students. We were unable to determine in a definitive way whether this was a reasonable figure, for a number of reasons, as will be explained in what follows. Two things are clear, however: the administrative delay referred to above has in effect made a proper discussion of this matter very difficult, and the increases are greater than the median projected salary increases of officers of instruction, not to mention officers of research. The salary increases of officers of research will average 4%, according to Vice-Provost Stephen Rittenberg, but all acknowledge that this figure includes (for some reason) retention increases, and that the median figure will be about 3%. This year's increase follows a long series of increases in excess of current price inflation.

7.3. There was no doubt expressed in the Committee that the Deputy Vice-President for IRE has continued to do his ingenious best to hold down costs. Some substantial increases between FY 04 (estimate) and FY 05 (budget) are certainly not easy to control, such as a 4.69% increase in building employee wages (we refer here only to budget items of significant size). Debt service - and this is the most contentious item -- will increase by 20.26% to a massive $16.94 million. Meanwhile other costs that are sometimes offered as reasons for rent increases will actually decrease next year: insurance costs are budgeted to decline by 6.13%.

7.4. Most members of the committee do not think that it is proper to burden the tenants with the expenses of debt service that result from the upgrading of sub-standard buildings which Columbia has acquired over the years. It should, we think, be the university's responsibility to get buildings into reasonable shape before making their maintenance the responsibility of the tenants; this has not always happened.

7.5. Columbia is more than ever dependant on favorable housing arrangements for its faculty, administrators, and graduate students. As far as rent policy is concerned, the university appears to have no policy beyond squeezing as much as possible from its tenants without provoking a widespread protest. This has resulted in year-after-year increases in excess of the CPI, and anomalies such as those referred to above. We recognize that the university needs to make extensive investments in maintaining and improving its housing stock, but we regret that there is no policy (or at least no openly stated policy) about where these funds are going to come from. We do not consider that the university's interests are best served by constantly maximizing the rent-income it draws from its own employees.

7.6. Because of the discontents voiced in this paragraph, we hope that next year's committee will be able to engage in long-term policy discussions, not only with the Vice-President for IRE -- who, be it noted, has the fullest confidence of the university community -- but with other administration officials too. In such a dialogue it is essential that proper attention should be paid to the interests of the faculty, administrators and students who live in IRE housing.          

Respectfully submitted,

W.V. Harris, Committee Chair