UH's Taj Mahal Apartment Complex Not Exactly A Hot Seller

It's hard out there for a pimped-out student housing facility.

We reported back in May that UH was having trouble leasing rooms in Calhoun Lofts, the deluxe dorms intended for grad students to live in (as well as dance, take cooking lessons, do yoga and reach the summit of Maslow's hierarchy of needs). This was troubling for the university, since the lofts -- with a debt service of $7.2 million a year for 30 years -- are the most expensive capital project in UH System history, according to VP for Student Affairs Elwyn C. Lee.

On May 1 this year, The Division of Student Affairs held a meeting about the situation, telling a group of UH employees that applications had been filed for only 25 percent of the rooms. When we made some calls May 8, UH officials told us that number had jumped to 60 percent. (To break even, the facility needed to be about 95 percent full.)

Despite that weekend's phenomenal -- dare we say, unbelievable -- jump in applications, occupancy is now around the 60 percent mark. As of this week, 647 of 984 beds were occupied in the facility.

Not the best news, especially considering expanding on-campus housing is a priority in UH President Reun Khator's plans to improve the university. (Another priority, we assume, is not losing giant sums of money.) When she started the job, we were told there were plans in the works for a new facility, as well as a waiting list for housing. (Of course, freshman and sophomores on such waiting lists are SOL when it comes to the lofts, which take only juniors, seniors and grad students. The original plan was to house only grad students -- demand wasn't high enough, though that model is still the goal for the facility.)

VP Lee sent us a statement on the subject, attributing the vacancies in part to the recession:

The country's weakened economy has taken its toll on students' budgets. Many students still reside with their parents and commute to campus. Likewise, others, who maintain full or part-time employment, often elect to live closer to their jobs. I do see a change in this trend as the campus and the city continue to evolve, and Calhoun Lofts will provide full-time students with a convenient location and ideal amenities to help them succeed at UH.

Not unlike other apartments in Houston, Calhoun Lofts has remained competitive with its rates. The apartment market in Houston is in a soft spot right now. Our efficiency units sold out, and we offered students rate incentives for our one and two bedroom units.

The incentives he's referring to include cutting prices for a one-bedroom to $1,025 from $1,120 for a furnished apartment and to $995 from $1,090 for an unfurnished one. For a two-bedroom, the price was cut to $1,540 from $1,642 for furnished and to $1,490 from $1,602 for unfurnished.

We do hope the lofts take off once the economy recovers and word spreads. Of course, we also hoped the UH football team would beat UTEP by a lot instead of little, and look where that got us.

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