By Maddison Cervantes
The University of Nevada, Reno’s graduate students are teaming up against Ponderosa Village, the university’s year-old graduate housing complex.
While many of the graduate students residing in Ponderosa agree that the community aspect of the apartment structure is ideal – living exclusively with other graduates – they are claiming that many of the anticipated amenities have not been received.
Rahul Thareja, College of Science representative for the university’s Graduate Students Association, is not a tenant of Ponderosa. However, he is involved with the Village, and when tenants got word that their rent would be increasing in the fall, Thareja took action.
Thareja created a petition detailing the rent increase, and offered an invitation for anyone to sign and express their opinions on the matter.
When tenants originally signed their leases, a single-bedroom apartment cost $850 per month, and a two-bedroom was available at $1,100. With the rent increase implemented in the fall, the numbers will rise $79 for a single and $100 for a two-bedroom per month. Therefore, the increase will create new totals of $929 and $1,200 for the two living options.
Jerome Maese, director of Residential Life, Housing & Food Services explained that the university partnered with Balfour Beatty Construction to create Ponderosa Village and house graduate and professional medical students. The largest reason for the rent increase, according to Maese, is that Balfour Beatty is paying the complex’s mortgage. Therefore, a feature of allowing Ponderosa to continue operating at the current level is the increase in rent the tenants are incurring.
“The lowest rate that we offer is only going up about one percent,” Maese said. “So that’s kind of why we are a little confused about some of the stuff we are seeing with the online petition.”
Maese went on to explain that Ponderosa’s lowest possible cost will be $600 per month beginning in the fall for a two-bedroom apartment, which is a one percent rate increase over the lowest rate for the current semester. Additionally, Maese stated that the cost of living goes up every year.
UNR President Marc Johnson was quoted in a Nevada Today article published on Aug. 29, 2014 explaining the benefits Ponderosa was said to provide.
“This well-appointed complex offers students an on-campus housing opportunity that offers the tools they need to succeed in today’s educational environment,” Johnson said.
The tenants of Ponderosa would like to know exactly where those tools are. The rent increase has brought up a multitude of mixed feelings among the Ponderosa community.
Maese explained that the new rent amount of $600 for an individual lease including a washer, dryer, personal bathroom, kitchen and an on-campus location is viewed as an affordable rate by the university. However, Maese understands that the tenants may have different desires.
A voiced concern among the tenants involves their parking options, or rather their lack thereof.
“People can’t even visit us because of the parking issue,” Ponderosa tenant Sandesh Kannan said. “I mean, it’s graduate housing, we have family and friends coming over. My friend got two tickets already, so they stopped coming.”
Ponderosa tenants are given the single option of parking their vehicles in the university’s orange lot.
Kannan and Thareja both agree that upon paying a higher amount in rent, tenants should be provided a cheaper parking option separate from the $400 university parking passes they involuntarily purchased.
Maese voiced that there are reasonable options provided to Ponderosa tenants when purchasing a parking pass.
“Tenants can buy a green or blue parking pass too; they aren’t restricted to the prices of the yellow or orange passes,” Maese said. “Aside from that, anyone who wants to park on campus has to pay for some sort of pass.”
Nevada Today recorded that 25 percent of Ponderosa tenants are international graduate students. Marena Manierka, another tenant, voiced a concern regarding the inconveniences, which many of the international students are faced with while living at Ponderosa.
“They are so inflexible and so clearly an outside company,” Manierka said. “International students appear at all times of the year, and sometimes they are only in the country for six months. But you can’t sign a shorter lease, you have to pay until July if you sign one at all.”
Along with Manierka’s statement, other tenants agree that Ponderosa is uncompromising with students who have no choice but to leave the complex before their lease is up.
Being that the largest percentage of medical students residing at Ponderosa are international students, Maese stated that it is normal to want to live somewhere university-affiliated. The housing department understands that the current leases offered by Ponderosa do not accommodate all international students’ schedules.
“Right now, there are only 12-month leases,” Maese said. “The university is currently working with Belford Beattie about possible alternative leases. Some people have voiced concerns, so we are definitely exploring other options.”
Those who participated in signing Thareja’s petition include Ponderosa tenants, other graduate students and the parents of tenants who voiced their opinions that the rent increase is unreasonable.
Graduate student Sravan Kanukolanu posted the link to a website on the petitions’ comments section that details the average rent prices in Reno. For both a single-bedroom and a two-bedroom, the website claims that the average is less than $1,000.
“If there are grad students who are looking to join UNR and they look for a place to rent, the first go-to place would be the graduate housing,” Kanukolanu said. “And the moment they find that they have to spend almost 70 percent of their stipend on rent, they will be concerned about it.”
Additionally, other tenants stated that Ponderosa seemingly views them as nothing more than a profit.
Ponderosa tenant Jasmine Hankey acquired a bad taste in her mouth since attempting to sign her lease. Hankey claims that she was asked to reapply and sign another lease, after Ponderosa misplaced her original document.
“While living in Ponderosa has been wonderfully convenient, I am dissatisfied by how we graduate students are being viewed as dollar amounts, rather than people struggling to subsist on a monthly stipend as we seek higher education,” Hankey said. “Ponderosa Village has set its sights on earnings and profit-margins and has lost sight of the fact that those who reside within its community are students.”
Ponderosa’s tenants are distressed by a variety of factors entailed in their residency. Similar to Hankey, many are seeking fairness and acknowledgement of the fact that they are students, and their first priority is their schooling.
Graduate student Juan Lopez also signed the petition and provided commentary to the petition. He argued that on top of each graduate credit costing $270 (more in some cases), graduate students do not work full time, and these issues need to be considered by Ponderosa.
“If the purpose of this housing is purely to profit and take even more cash out of our students’ pockets, then fine, the high prices should stay,” Lopez said.
Maese and Vice President of Student Life Services Jerry Marczynski will be attending the upcoming GSA meeting being held to discuss the rent increases.
As of Monday, April 19, Thareja’s petition had collected 135 signatures.
Maddison Cervantes can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @madcervantes.