There were 1200 hundred losers in the University of Michigan Housing Office's grand who's-going-to-get-the-dormitory-spaces lottery last week. Based upon all the available figures and projections, dormitory space for next fall will be in such short supply that the University's "solution" was to raffle off 2900 spaces among 4100 applicants, a housing policy first.
The abandoned dorm residents were being thrown to Ann Arbor's general housing crisis, not only at the expense of their pocketbooks, but if they can't find a place to stay at a cost they can afford, at the jeopardy of their academic careers.
Many of these losers promptly vowed to raise hell with phone calls, petitions and meetings- even three court injuctions to challenge the fairness of the lottery-but there are never easy solutions when the problem is the University of Michigan.
“I'm very disturbed," said University Housing Director John Feldkamp of the situation. But Feldkamp, a landlord, Republican activist and manager of William Colburn's unsuccessful city council campaign last year, is also very discouraging about the possibility of building more housing.
Lack of building capital, rising construction costs and rising interest rates, plus "enrollment stability" have all prevented the construction of new housing, he says. But when some of Mr. Feldkamp's arguments are examined more closely, they assume the character of excuses.
As for dorms being "too expensive to build" and not being "able to pay for themselves," the University is both exempt from property tax and has access to cheaper financing than private landlords, who somehow manage not only to pay for their units, but make profits- frequently exorbitant.
Financing has been available since 1971 in the form of a $5.6 million, low interest loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. By refusing to build, the University has condemned students to the tight private market, and is close to losing the loan unless a contract is signed by June 30.
"Enrollment stability" is also a shaky argument, but with private construction at a near halt, the housing gap has continued to widen. In fact, enrollment is up by 3,000 since the University's "no growth" policy was announced in 1968.
The Regents seem to be looking at things a little differently now, as evidenced by their refusal to grant a 3 percent dorm increase requested by Feldkamp in February. At their March meeting, the Regents voted their intention to pursue the HUD loan and also look for emergency housing.
The emergency alternatives weren't too attractive though. The worst was probably to hire two vacant dormitories on the Eastern Michigan University campus, which has overbuilt its housing. The other choice was to rent the entire 220-room structure of the financially failing Ann Arbor Inn on Fifth St.
Even if new construction is started soon, it will still be a while before needed additional housing is available. But at least attention on the housing situation may help force the University to assume responsibility for providing adequate housing for its students.