Provo City and Brigham Young University don't see eye to eye on a proposed married-student housing project at BYU.
Earlier this month the Provo Planning Commission gave preliminary approval for the 136-unit apartment project. Because the student housing is on BYU property, the project did not require the approval of the City Council.The Provo City Council and Mayor Joe Jenkins expressed concern about the project at the council study meeting a week ago and were to meet with BYU administration on Wednesday morning to express those concerns.
Provo officials object to BYU providing additional on-campus housing because the housing may interfere with the rental housing market and because the children of the students may place a burden on Provo schools. Increased traffic on 900 East, adjacent to the project site, is also a concern.
BYU's position is that there is a serious housing shortage for married students in Provo and the surrounding area.
Councilman Ronald Last said the market should have a chance to react to the housing shortage. Low rents mean a low rate of return on rental investments for property owners, said Last. If rents were higher, more apartments would be built. He questioned how BYU determines the rental rates on their housing.
The housing market is "woefully inadequate," Paul Richards, director of BYU Public Communications, said. "Married students have to go outside the area for affordable housing." The cost of commuting long distances is a hardship for many married students, he said.
Richards also disagrees with the City Council's assessment that the property-tax-exempt housing will place an unfair burden on Provo schools. "Based on the child-per-unit ratio we have now (in existing married-student housing), there will be 29.6 school-age children," Richards said.
The tax burden is more than offset by thousands of single BYU students who pay property tax but don't have children, he said. Fall semester about 76 percent of BYU's 19,922 single students lived off campus. A portion of their rent pays the property tax that supports public schools even though most the students do not benefit from the public schools.
Jenkins said builders won't build in Provo if BYU reduces enrollment to 27,000 students and, at the same time, adds housing. Provo's private sector has added 370 units in a 20-month period, he said, and is doing a fair job of keeping up.
Richards said the enrollment ceiling will not reduce the number of students by more than 1,000. With the community growth rate, he does not see a housing glut anytime soon.
Two recent studies support Richard's assessment of the housing market. An October housing market analysis by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sees a tightening of rental markets in the years ahead. "Demand for rental units will be above the average number of rental units produced during the 1980s," said the report.
A task force appointed by the Utah County Council of Governments studied the housing issue the last half of 1990. The study found less than a 1 percent vacancy rate, indicating a severe shortage in rentals.
The recommendation of the task force was: "When it is demonstrated that the private sector cannot develop rental housing in sufficient numbers to meet the housing demands of married student families, BYU and UVCC should build rental units to ease the burdens on the community and their students that housing shortages create."
Jenkins, while expressing opposition to BYU's proposed housing project, said, "We're becoming a rental community. Somewhere down the line, that will negatively affect Provo City."
September vacancy rates for BYU off-campus approved housing:
Families women men
1987 6.7% 6.4% 12.1%
1988 2.1% 2.4% 1.4%
1989 0.5% 0.6% 1.4%
1990 0.0% 0.6% 2.3%
Source: BYU off-campus housing office.