Res Life pulls plug on Pine Haven


Caption: Pine Haven apartments on the Southern Miss campus resemble a ghost town as residents vacate the apartments. The complex will officially close Jan. 1, 2015. – Brittny Roberts, The Student Printz

Grad students, families lose on-campus housing

The doors of Pine Haven, The University of Southern Mississippi’s only on-campus graduate and family housing option, will close indefinitely Jan. 1, 2015.

These apartments have been home to married or single parents, graduate students and international students since 1959. Residents have been asked to vacate the buildings no later than Dec. 31.

Questions have been raised by past and current residents alike about the reason behind the closing of Pine Haven and why the university will not
replace the buildings.

“Pine Haven has been a part of the university community for a number of years and quite frankly it is time for it to close,” said Scott Blackwell, director of Residence Life. “It has outlived its life expectancy.”

According to the Hattiesburg American, Blackwell said there is a decrease in demand for graduate student and family housing at USM.

“In 2011, only half of Pine Haven apartments were occupied, and currently only 40 doctorate/graduate students with families live in the complex now,” he said to the Hattiesburg American. He said only 130 of the units were occupied when the decision was made to close.

However, 141 of 168 apartments were occupied in the spring of 2011, and 145 in the fall of 2011. The apartments only began to see a decline once residents received notice in May 2013 that the apartments would close in 2018.

At that time Residence Life quit taking applications for Pine Haven and as residents began making other arrangements and moving out, those apartments were closed. There was still a waiting list at that time.

“It’s overdue and the demand for apartment housing has been in decline,” Blackwell said. “A year and half ago it was decided to go ahead and announce the closing of Pine Haven for
maintenance reasons.”

The buildings were initially scheduled to close in 2018, but the date was moved up when Institutions for Higher Learning (IHL) mandated that every residential building be equipped with sprinklers by December 2014.

According to Blackwell, Pine Haven will be torn down due to the age of the buildings and the amount of money needed to install fire safety sprinklers in every apartment.

Michelle Shinall, assistant director of  marketing and campus relations for Physical Plant, said the reinforced concrete in Pine Haven made the installation of the systems impractical.

Blackwell said the apartments were built when there were few off-campus apartments available.

“I do not believe there is not an abundance of off-campus housing available,” Blackwell said. “Pine Haven has served a niche market. Since that time a lot of construction has occurred around the perimeter of campus to offer more housing options.”

When asked if he heard some students may have to drop out of school because of their inability to afford other housing, Blackwell said, “I would have to ask how hard have those students been looking for off-campus housing. We realized it would be inconveniencing some, so we decided not to raise costs and allowed residents to leave early without financial penalty.”

Vicki Copeland, assistant director for family and special interest housing, said these students need affordable housing options. 

“If there was a way to build something at a low cost that they could afford, that would be great,” Copeland said. “Housing in the community is just not affordable for most.”

Shyrle Wallace, a graduate student at USM and current Pine Haven resident, said Pine Haven was the reason she decided to earn a degree at the university. Wallace said although she realizes the buildings are “old and infested,” she said on-campus housing for graduate students and families
is a necessity.

“If not for the option of living on campus, I might have had to give up my pursuit of an education because I had not owned a car in over 12 years and had no way to commute at the time,” Wallace said. “To say that family housing has no future on the USM campus, to me, it just seems like Southern Miss is turning its back on those who need it most.”  

Delta State University and the University of Mississippi offer apartment-style family housing on campus with the option to pay with financial aid.

“Right now around the country, there appears to be a trend in not only building apartment-style housing for traditional undergraduates, but also in removing the older buildings that were traditionally family and graduate housing,” Eric Neilson, assistant director for apartment living at Kansas State University, wrote in Talking Stick, a campus housing publication.

He said this happens as the structures become older and repair costs are not always covered by rental rates. Neilson said there is a need to work with the undergraduate population, but also to do that without alienating the graduate students and families.

According to Blackwell, Pine Haven was built for $900,000, but it would cost approximately $20 million to rebuild the nine existing buildings.

At this time there are no plans for rebuilding or what will take its place. However, Blackwell said Greek Life housing is a possibility.

In 2005, one-third of the apartments were removed to make room for The Village – sorority housing on campus that opened in 2008. Pine Haven was full with a waiting list at that point.

Blackwell said plans to close Pine Haven were discussed as early as 2007.

“It makes me very sad knowing how many non-traditional and graduate students have reached their educational goals because of the affordable housing that Pine Haven offered,” Copeland said. “I understand the reason for tearing them down, but wish we could offer another housing option for this population of students.  The cost of off-campus housing may be out of reach for this population.”

Rent for many of the apartments bordering campus ranges between $500 to $560 per month, plus the cost of utilities. Rent at Pine Haven averages out to around $435 each month with utilities, basic cable, Internet and local phone service included. There is also the option to use financial aid to pay the bills.

Jefferson Saint Saens, a Southern Miss alumnus who moved out of Pine Haven July 2013, said the condition of the apartments was unpleasant, but because of the need for graduate housing Pine Haven should have been torn down and rebuilt.

Britney Slack, a senior elementary education and special education double major, current Pine Haven resident and single mother, said she chose to live in Pine Haven because it was convenient for her family, close to campus and affordable.

“The closing of Pine Haven has affected me a lot, because I am planning on going to grad school and I now have to rush to find a new place,” Slack said. “I hate that USM will no longer be offering family housing considering how helpful it was to my family and how many students (who) attend the university (and) have families.”

Wallace’s concern is not primarily for graduate students.

“I do not believe that it is so much the graduate part that bothers me,” Wallace said. “Single grad students can always do dorm living. It is the (would-be) future families – international and local – that I see losing a very beneficial and necessary thing.”

In Thursday’s paper, be sure to read the special feature on the Pine Haven residents.