The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners declined on Tuesday to approve a campus development agreement (CDA) with the University of Florida due to concern over the upcoming demolition of graduate student housing facilities.
Maguire Village and University Village South (UVS), which were built in 1972-73, are slated for demolition because they are deemed, “Beyond economical renovation at this point,” according to UF’s explanation on its housing information website.
A phased approach to transferring residents out of the 348 units started in 2020 with plans for completely vacating all residents by June 25, 2023.
The addition of new construction plans to UF’s Campus Master Plan (CMP) triggered the need for the BOCC to address approving the CDA, which was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2025.
After receiving emails and outreach from UF graduate students pleading with the BOCC to intervene in the housing loss, the BOCC addressed the issue during a presentation by county staff itemizing the new CDA that UF is seeking approval of.
Florida Statute 1013.30 regarding educational facilities recognizes that university campuses and local governments need to strike a balance when it comes to decisions that impact public services.
Specifically, the statute states that every university’s board of trustees must adopt a CMP that will identify, “general land uses and address the need for and plans for provision of roads, parking, public transportation, solid waste, drainage, sewer, potable water, and recreation and open space during the coming 10 to 20 years.”
In the last approved CMP, UF agreed to pay a total mitigation cost for the 2006 CDA of $21.1 million, with Alachua County receiving $2.1 million and the City of Gainesville receiving $19 million.
The newly proposed CDA, which addresses an additional area of campus projects, involves no mitigation amount for removal of the two grad student facilities as housing is not deemed to affect community public services, county staff reported.
But BOCC commissioners, who in March announced that they would make affordable housing a priority, disagree.
Alachua County comprehensive planner Michael Castine told the BOCC that the CDA “cannot be in conflict with county standards of service,” in his presentation.
BOCC vice chair Mary Alford noted that housing is considered part of the area where construction is planned to happen but isn’t included on the list of land uses that will affect the off-campus community or be considered part of the public infrastructure.
“The impact is calculable,” Alford said. “As affordable housing is eliminated on campus, then those students are going to want to move to affordable housing they can find close to campus which then displaces campus employees that move further out and impacts public transportation, community services…that we feel as the county.
“I am frustrated by the fact that those housing impacts are not considered impactful enough to trigger mitigation,” she said.
UF Director of Planning Linda Dixon told the BOCC that the board of trustees have also been receiving outreach and comments from grad students concerned about lack of housing. She said the family and graduate housing units are “casually being taken offline” and that “impact is not going to happen immediately and not all at once. We will have something in place to address that before they come offline.”
But when asked by BOCC members to reveal details of those plans, Dixon said she was not able to state a response to the requests for comments about details of upcoming plans.
Cornell pushed for answers about the soon-to-be demolished graduate housing and also asked about the plan for replacing them.
“We’re getting inundated with emails asking,” Cornell said, adding he wanted to “address the elephant in the room.”
“We’ve heard a big outcry, and this board on March 4th of 2021 made housing a priority,” he said. “We brought this up at a couple of meetings and we continue to hear the board of trustees is looking at it. If we delay this approval, would that accelerate them [the board of trustees] looking at it?”
Dixon responded that the authorization of the CDA allows UF to proceed with a construction program that is not currently covered under the existing CDA.
“One of those projects is the new 1,400 bed undergraduate facility,” she said.
BOCC member Anna Prizzia said it was unfortunate that housing is not part of the calculation.
“We look at roads, travel, distance, population, but not housing affordability and displacement,” Prizzia said. “It’s something we have to think about taking up with the state. There’s probably lots of other communities around the state that would also be interested in seeing that. It’s a conversation worth having at a bigger level.”
Prizzia noted that there are universities, “in most of our cities that are also struggling with affordable housing issues.”
Cornell then moved to postpone the approval of adopting the CDA for 2020-2030 and requested that the board of trustees and/or UF address the housing concerns expressed that are associated with the planned demolition of the Macguire Village and UVS student housing areas and asked that staff brings the agenda item back for approval in December.
During public comment, UF Graduate Assistant United (GAU) labor union chair Bryn Taylor told the BOCC that graduate assistants (GAs) are losing hundreds of beds.
“Right now there is a total of 1,469 beds for graduate assistants to live in that are affordable,” she said. “After demolition of UVS and Maguire, it’s going to be 947.”
Taylor said the average rent for graduate student housing at those two locations is $564 per month.
“You’re not going to find that rent anywhere else on campus or in Gainesville,” Taylor said and asked the BOCC to write a letter in support of the protection of affordable graduate student housing.
“This is a fight we have been fighting for years,” she said, “We can’t just sit around and wait for UF to decide they are going to focus on graduate housing.”
Taylor told the board that more than 1,000 of the 4,000 GAs at UF responded to a survey which revealed that 72 percent of them said they cannot afford monthly expenses, and 20 percent reported that they have made late rent payments.
Alford said research is the “bread and butter of the university” and that because graduate students are responsible for a large portion of that research, she expects the university to take care of them.
The BOCC voted unanimously to postpone the approval and agreed to write a letter to the board of trustees asking them to share future plans for graduate student housing before the December meeting.