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November 10, 1994

Concerns about student housing, shuttle bus system dominate forum on master space plan

Concerns about insufficient on-campus graduate student housing, inadequate off-campus student housing and the continuation of Pitt's shuttle bus service were the main topics of discussion at the master space plan public forum on Nov. 2.

Sponsored by Senate Council's plant utilization and planning committee (PUP), the forum was designed to give the public an opportunity to comment on the University's recently released master space plan, which will guide the physical growth of Pitt over the next five, 10 and 20 years.

Although the master space plan was released on Oct. 24, PUP chairperson James DeAngelis, a faculty member in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, stressed to the forum audience that it is still in the draft stage. He said that PUP will continue to seek input on the plan and that the plan will continue to evolve to meet changing conditions at the University.

One area in which Shakura Sabur, a law student and member of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, felt the plan was lacking was graduate student housing.

Sabur said graduate students are disappointed that the student housing planned for the mid-range, the 10-year period, on the hilltop near Sutherland Hall and the hillside adjacent to existing fraternity houses, was designated for undergraduates and did not include graduate students. While acknowledging that the master space plan needs to look more at the issue of housing, DeAngelis said that what is in the draft represents "the best thinking at the time." According to the master space plan draft, the majority of graduate and married students will remain housed off-campus or in University-owned apartment complexes over the next 20 years. However, the plan concludes, "It is anticipated that the graduate and married students will have a better selection of privately owned off-campus housing units to choose from when a greater number of undergraduates are housed on-campus." To improve off-campus housing, the master space plan suggests that the University take a number of steps including: * Expand listings and information to include housing opportunities outside Oakland, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill.

* Explore methods used at other universities to encourage safer and better maintained rental units.

* Endorse the creation of a landlord and tenant council and a legal clinic for housing complaints.

* Continue and expand efforts supporting code enforcement initiatives.

* Encourage student representation in appropriate grassroots organizations by stressing both the students' importance in certain neighborhoods, as well as their obligation to be good neighbors.

Joan Lucas, of the Office of International Services, told PUP that 95 percent of complaints that her office receives from foreign students concern housing.

She said that many foreign student don't know what to expect as far as housing is concerned when they arrive at Pitt and are often shocked at the terrible quality of some off-campus housing.

"It is a great concern of theirs when they come here, especially if they've just come from another country," Lucas said.

According to Lucas, some private landlords also refuse to return the rental deposits of foreign students. She said the landlords sometimes will take cases involving rental deposits to court knowing that the foreign students will have returned to their country before the case is heard.

About the issue of off-campus housing and the problems surrounding it, DeAngelis said that PUP is "trying to get the University to be more involved and to get the city to be more involved." The issue of housing gave rise to concerns about transportation between campus and off-campus residences. The concern grew out of a story in the Oct. 29 edition of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that said the Port Authority Transit (PAT) had denied Pitt's shuttle service operator permission to run a route from Shadyside-Squirrel Hill to campus because it competed with PAT service.

Parking and Transportation director Bob Harkins said that shuttle service between Pitt and Shadyside-Squirrel Hill will continue as it is at least through May.

During that period, Harkins said, Pitt will attempt to work out a deal with PAT to provide service to Shadyside and Squirrel Hill by different means. One possible solution to the problem, Harkins noted, would be for the University to take the money it is now spending to operate a shuttle service to Shadyside-Squirrel Hill and give it to PAT in exchange for PAT allowing Pitt students, faculty and staff to ride their buses along those routes free of charge.

"That's an option that's on the table right now," Harkins said. "We've also asked them to look at prices for them to run specific routes we have running right now and the options they've got in terms of service. What we are trying to do is get the maximum amount of coverage for the best price." About the Post-Gazette article, Harkins said that it gives the impression that PAT has denied permission to run the shuttle system. He said in fact that PAT granted a continuance to operate the shuttle.

According to Harkins, PAT also gave the University an extension on the Shadyside-Squirrel Hill route so that a new agreement could be worked out without adversely affecting the people who ride the shuttle from those areas.

After the meeting, Harkins also took exception to a statement in the article maintaining that Pitt's shuttle system is stealing one million riders a year from PAT.

"Our ridership is nowhere near a million on the Shadyside-Squirrel Hill route. The majority of our ridership is going up and down the hill [between the lower campus and the upper campus]," he said.

Harkins also complained that the article did not give Pitt credit for the way the it already works with PAT. He said Pitt is the city's largest participant in various rider plans, including a payroll deduction plan for PAT passes.

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 6

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