How UO student housing transformed in under 10 years

A lot has changed at the University of Oregon since the early 1990s. The football team started winning, enrollment exploded, and, thanks to donors like Phil Knight, campus has been under continuous renovation. Despite the addition of new halls and expanded facilities, the UO campus maintains the same aesthetic feel …

A lot has changed at the University of Oregon since the early 1990s. The football team started winning, enrollment exploded, and, thanks to donors like Phil Knight, campus has been under continuous renovation.

Despite the addition of new halls and expanded facilities, the UO campus maintains the same aesthetic feel it had 20 years ago. New buildings have blended with historic structures in a seamless transition between the past and the present. “Much of the grounds and feel is still the same,” 1990 grad and Eugene mortgage company owner Eric Lundberg wrote in an email.

However, off-campus neighborhoods have had a much more abrupt transition.

“Housing around the U of O has changed dramatically,” Lundberg wrote.  “The amount and scale of recent student housing near the U of O is staggering.”

A combination of increased demand for luxury housing and tax breaks offered by the city of Eugene has led to a housing boom in the last 10 years, and changed the way students live off campus.

Today, many UO students live in luxurious, pre-furnished apartments where the amenities make college life very comfortable. The kitchens are stainless steel, residents soak in poolside Jacuzzis, and the gyms are always open. For many, these apartments are the light at the end of the dorm-life tunnel. However, UO students didn’t always enjoy such plush accommodations.

When Lundberg lived here in 1982, houses “were poorly maintained, small and much less attractive than now.” Lundberg lived with friends in a South Eugene house that had no heat and leaned badly. “It should’ve been bulldozed 30 years ago,” he wrote.

Students who attended UO in the ’90s remember a similar situation.

“After moving out of the dorms, your options for housing were to find an old house in the neighborhoods near campus, which were usually musty or falling apart,” said 1999 grad Marc Carlton, who was at UO from 1994-1999 for his undergraduate and law degrees.

“Chase Village and Ducks Village opened up while I was there, and those were the new, nice places,” Carlton said. “The students who stopped at the Mercedes dealership on the way into town were the students who lived at those places. They were first rate at the time.”

UO’s enrollment has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. Enrollment jumped from 17,269 students in fall 1996 to 23,634 students in fall 2016, a 37 percent increase that has led to some of the major neighborhood changes apparent today.

As the Eugene and UO community grows, so does the need for housing. “We did have a major student housing shortage for many years,” Lundberg wrote.

Now, there is anything but a shortage of housing. A student housing construction boom began around 2008, and changed the shape of campus-area neighborhoods. Since then, numerous large housing complexes have opened, including 13th and Olive, The Hub, 2125 Franklin, The Patterson, Uncommon, Skybox, and dozens of other smaller complexes.

Chase Village and Ducks Village, located near Autzen Stadium, are now the affordable complexes compared to most of the new buildings. A two-bedroom apartment at Chase costs $1,000 per month total. A two-bedroom apartment at The Hub goes for $1,970 per month, and a two-bedroom at Uncommon costs $2,038. You get what you pay for, as both The Hub and Uncommon have gyms and hot tubs inside the building, along with pre-furnished apartments.

The boom

Lundberg pointed to some of the conditions that have led to the housing boom, most of which has been financed by out-of-state developers.

“A planner I know said three things drive large, out-of-state developers to fund projects near campus: A, a major university with limited on campus housing; B, a student population of at least 25,000; and C, the school must have a nationally ranked sports team,” Lundberg wrote. UO meets two conditions, and is close to reaching the third threshold of 25,000 students.  

However, Eugene presents one problem to companies attempting to build within the city.

Jim Walsh, vice president of sales at Rosboro, a Springfield lumber company, said building costs are high in Eugene. This is due to urban growth boundaries, which are designed to inhibit urban areas from encroaching on farmland and forests. The dense land decreases supply, which raises building costs.

“It’s Economics 101,” Walsh said.

The city of Eugene has a 20-year growth program, called Envision Eugene, which limits building within the urban growth boundary. To incentivize new construction in the downtown area, the city gave tax exemptions to builders of new and renovated multi-unit properties. The Eugene Multi-Unit Tax Exemption, or MUPTE, helped many new apartment buildings develop around the downtown area.

For instance, 13th and Olive, the largest student housing complex at 1,300 beds, is exempt from property tax until 2024, totaling $8.5 million in savings. An investment firm from Singapore bought the 13th and Olive complex this year for $104 million — an example of big, out-of-state investors getting involved with the Eugene housing market.

Although the city has recently excluded student housing from the MUPTE, Walsh believes the tax exemption existed too long. “Talking to people around town, they may have overbuilt,” Walsh said, as many buildings maintain empty rooms.

The housing shortage of the ’80s and ’90s is long gone, as new apartment complexes have struggled to fill up and often offer deals to students in an attempt to get leases signed.

However, Walsh is optimistic that, due to economic growth since the 2008 recession, more millennials will move away from home, increasing  the demand for housing.

Many West Eugene residents are unhappy with the growth, Walsh said. New residents have made parking scarce and expensive, and many are unhappy with the use of out-of-state developers.

The city has attempted to alleviate some of these issues. According to the Register Guard, the MUPTE will require new buildings to price 30 percent of new units at a rate affordable to people living at “100 percent or less of the region’s median wage.”

“Growth is always a mixed bag for people,” Lundberg wrote. Despite some public criticism over the change, Lundberg and Walsh are optimistic it will end up being positive.

“Places will always be overbuilt, but it eventually equalizes,” said Walsh, who expects empty apartments will be filled.

Although construction projects have slowed recently, the development spree isn’t over. In April, a Houston-based company purchased the property of the closed-down Louie’s Village restaurant on Franklin Boulevard near The Hub. The company is planning to build a new 12-story apartment tower, roughly the same size as The Hub.

In the oversaturated campus housing market, a new building of that size might struggle to find renters. But one thing is clear: the march toward bigger and better student housing isn’t stopping soon.

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