Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Dorm Privatization in Madison and That Other Privatization

by Tom Bozzo

Tactical questions aside (I agree with Max), part of the Social Security reform problem is not that it's impossible for bright conservative economists to devise a private saving plan that would be an economically useful supplement to Social Security. Rather, as Brad DeLong has noted, the Plan will actually be developed by the Bush administration, the Republican-led Congress, and such interest groups as the administration and Congress allow into the process.

A significant issue that will merit far more attention as an actual Plan emerges is that those narrow interests, once entrenched, will become nearly impossible to dislodge.

A central Madison development issue offers a cautionary lesson. The UW would like to build more on-campus housing to meet demand, but has considerable difficulty doing so because of opposition from campus-area landlords.

The replacement for Ogg Hall, the hideous and obsolete dorm whose pending removal (a done deal) makes everyone happy, passed city approval substantially by deferring the real fight over expanding East Campus housing. The opposition is, of course, couched in public-spirited language, but of Madison taxpayers, UW students, and Steve Brown, whose interests really are adversely affected by expanded on-campus housing?

Those landlords were, of course, put in business in the first place by the university when the '60s enrollment boom, apart from driving the development of some of the ugliest buildings on campus, also drove the UW to give up on even trying to house its upperclass students.

Surrounding neighborhoods, particularly on the isthmus and the very near west side, rapidly lost their owner-occupiers and working class renters and were largely turned over to the students. This either devastated the neighborhoods or was the beginning of a beautiful public-private partnership, depending on how you look at it.

After upscale condominiums, the next most aggressively propagating form of central Madison development is the upscale student apartment building. These are also, in effect, privatized dorms.

More will be coming under a feature of the campus master plan not mentioned in last week's reporting. Students who can afford them love them (no supervision!), the university gets to avoid scraps with the landlords, and the surrounding neighborhoods are lured with the prospect of increased owner-occupation. Who could ask for anything more?
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