ANNUAL REPORT OF THE SENATE HOUSING POLICY COMMITTEE

2004-2005

 

1. The reason why this report is late once again is primarily the delay in the overall university budget process. The Deputy Vice-President for IRE was unable to provide us with enough figures for a full discussion of this issue until shortly before the academic year’s last meeting of the Senate.

 

2. The Committee has been less concerned this year with the supply of apartments on Morningside Heights, and more with financial problems. There is still of course intense pressure on the housing supply, and in particular the situation of young faculty, especially in such the less lavishly paid parts of the university such as the Arts & Sciences, requires continued vigilance. The addition of 53 apartments at 455 Central Park West and 83 apartments at the building at 2700 Broadway (20 of them for junior faculty and post-docs) have somewhat alleviated the pressure, but these apartments are for the most part at the more expensive end of the university’s inventory, and so help junior faculty and graduate students indirectly at best.

 

3. The Committee’s most instructive experience this year was probably a meeting in January attended by Senior Executive VP Robert Kasdin, who gave a wide-ranging description of his views on university housing issues. He observed that some 80% of newly hired faculty receive university housing, and suggested that one way to relieve this pressure was to introduce a new mortgage program [which more and more other schools are doing]. He remarked that the housing stock in most need of renovation was graduate student housing. He declined to suggest any special measures to alleviate IRE’s renovation problem. Finally, he declared himself open to continuing discussions with the Committee, and we strongly suggest that next year’s Committee take him up on this in fall 2005.

 

4. At a later meeting of the Committee there was a detailed discussion of possible mortgage-assistance programs. Michael Johannes and William Scott expressed the hope that it would be possible to find out more about what various kinds of faculty actually wanted, and it is to be hoped that the Committee will look further into this matter in fall 2005, and that it will work with Robert Kasdin to produce a plan that will add to Columbia’s attractiveness.

 

5. The Committee did not receive a significant quantity of complaints from IRE tenants  this year – which may simply reflect the Committee’s low visibility.

 

6. A major component in the financial problems that beset the university’s housing stock continues to be the problem of deferred maintenance, which the Committee discussed at meeting after meeting all year. The tenants naturally feel that the inevitable deficiencies of one-hundred-year-old buildings, compounded in some cases by decades of neglect, should not be solved at the expense of the current renters – and many members of the Committee agree with them. Two numbers sum up the problem (though they both require some commentary if they are to be fully understood): William Scott estimates IRE’s housing stock has a deferred maintenance backlog of  $400M; the capital budget for next year is $35.2M.

 

7. In FY 05 IRE imposed a 3.9% average increase in rents for faculty, 3.75% for students. In FY 06, IRE projects that the increases will average 5% in both categories. Behind this lies a projected increase in IRE core operating expenses of 6.28%. The major items that show high percentage increases are fuel oil (28.45%) and administration (12.75%); the Committee expressed some concern over the latter figure, which Mr. Scott attributed in part to the fact that in FY 05 a number of staff positions were for a time vacant – nonetheless it is disturbing that the figure budgeted for administration in FY 06 exceeds by 15.34% the amount actually spent in FY 04. However, the additional staff are meant to produce an increase in revenue.

 

8. There was no doubt expressed in the Committee that the Deputy Vice-President for IRE has continued to do his best to hold down costs. A crucial item outside the control of IRE or of market forces is interest on internal Columbia debt. By reducing the originally budgeted amount of $1.708M, the central administration was able to reduce projected rent increases from an average of 5.5% to an average of 5%. Since the average salary increase on the Arts & Sciences is projected at 4%, this still leaves us with the usual tension: the rent increase proposed by IRE seems justified, and is of necessity approved by the Committee, but at the same time it will be burdensome to the faculty (less so to graduate students, whose stipends will be rising by 5.5%). Hence we are bound to ask ourselves why the university does not forgive even more of IRE’s internal debt, and we would welcome any proposal to do that.

 

9. An interesting suggestion by Michael Johannes will deserve further exploration next year: why not make some relatively luxurious housing available to relatively well-heeled students in professional schools and elsewhere, and charge them premium rents to help subsidize the rest?

 

10. Columbia is more than ever dependant on subsidized housing 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. 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.

 

 

                                                                        Respectfully submitted,

                                                                        W.V. Harris, Committee Chair

Ali Sami

Chris Small

Greg Mann

Jeffrey Gordon

Marc van de Mieroop

Matan Ariel

                                                                                    Michael Johannes

Richard Mann