Students who live off campus can be the first to tell you that there is not much affordable housing in Bloomington.
We are bedeviled by the high monthly costs of living in addition to college expenses and essential needs. According to a published 2020 housing study of Bloomington, only 50% of studio apartments charge a maximum rent of $600 per month.
Funny, isn't it? Only half of the studio apartments in Bloomington fall below the $600 per month threshold, meaning the other half could be twice that.
The city fails to acknowledge housing as a serious priority for students. In the same study, the city highlights that, as of 2018, 44% of its population is between 15 and 24 years old — roughly the age of most college students. We can infer a large chunk of this number is IU students.
The study observed community populations of other midwest college towns such as Madison, Wisconsin, Champaign, Illinois and East Lansing, Michigan. Of all the other surveyed communities, East Lansing is the only one whose population of 15- to 24-year-olds is higher than that of Bloomington.
IU causes Bloomington to have a young population, and growth will continue — as expected — in the coming years. And therefore, we need additional cheaper housing options for students.
There is a great solution for adding more affordable housing only 1.5 miles from the university at the old IU Health Bloomington Hospital site. The hospital recently moved across town, and the site will be purchased for $6.5 million by agreement with the city after removal of the existing hospital.
Bloomington wants us to believe this site will offer more affordable housing to the community, but I am not convinced.
The 277-page master plan published in January 2021 compares its affordable housing to The Mercury on Morton Street — which is a very expensive place to live.
On The Mercury's website, I saw a studio apartment available in July 2022 for $1,110 per month. The unit was unfurnished, did not include parking and required additional charges if you own a cat. Suppose the city proceeds using The Mercury as its example of affordable housing coming to the new development site. In that case, many college students will be deterred from living there.
This development has enormous potential. It appears congruent with the latest trends, including promoting green spaces, community interaction and activities such as biking and walking. Lower housing prices have the opportunity to bring more college students to the area which could create a spark and serve as an extension to the pre-existing downtown area around the courthouse.
The housing survey attested too many renters living on the west side of IU's campus. The development is on the edge of the main, dense rentable area that spans predominantly between Seventh and Third Streets between Dunn Street and College Avenue.
The “frequently asked questions” section of the plan’s website outlines the intended uses of the property and its various complications such as affordable housing. The website says, "While decisions about housing types for the site are yet to be determined, the City recognizes the importance of an inclusive community and is committed to providing housing that is accessible to a range of income levels."
Whoever wrote this is, again, not convincing. The ambiguous language eases people's concerns that Bloomington could build a more expensive development. As the age range of the IU student body makes up almost half the city’s population, we must further invest in awareness of the situation. Students might not be in Bloomington for long, but we should look out for those coming after us.
We must voice our opinions in upcoming planning meetings. The project website will have updates when future community engagement events are being held. The city might find more support in making the investment to bolster the college town and IU community.
John Hultquist (he/him) is a junior studying community health with a double minor in urban planning and community development and nutrition.