Homelessness in Morgantown: Everyone’s Problem

The issue of homelessness in Morgantown, W.Va. is not a secret. If you walk down High Street at anytime of the day or night, you’re likely to be asked if you could spare some change. This is a small piece of the issue that we see before our eyes, but there is much more to the story than this. You may be surprised to know how much the growing homeless population in Morgantown impacts your life.   homeless in morgantown

Photo courtesy of MountaineerNewsService.com

According to WDTV, the homeless population in Morgantown grew by 30 percent just last year. The cold weather and holidays may have some of us thinking of the less fortunate, but it’s not just the people you see on the streets that are in need of help.

Beyond the stereotype:

  • The primary cause of homelessness in Morgantown is lack of affordable housing.
  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness in the community are not visible like the people we see on the streets.
  • The majority of homeless people in the community are working at least part time.
  • Families with children are the fastest growing portion of the homeless population in Morgantown.

According to the Morgantown Homelessness Task Force, “The immediate impact of homelessness is, of course, on those who find themselves without a place to live. However, this problem also affects the quality of life for all in our community. The costs of homelessness are not just borne by those who directly experience homelessness. Everyone pays at least some of the personal, health, social, economic and governmental costs of homelessness because of the demand upon, and cost of, police, health and other public services.”

As the temperature drops each day, you may be asking now more than ever, what is being done to address this growing issue?

  • In September, Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller announced more than $23 million in federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for community development, affordable housing, and homelessness prevention and relief in West Virginia.
  • The Homelessness Task Force is a creation of the Morgantown City Council and the Monongalia County Commission.  Its goal is to address homelessness and vagrancy in Morgantown and the surrounding metropolitan area.
  • The City of Morgantown Community Development Office administrates annual grant monies from the federal government with the goal of providing decent housing, a suitable living environment and expanded economic opportunities.
  • Multidisciplinary Unsheltered Homeless Relief Outreach: Morgantown (MUSHROOM) is a medical student outreach to homeless people in Morgantown. Every two weeks, medical students with faculty physicians make rounds on the streets to find the homeless to give medical care and food.
  • Homeless Shelters and clothing places such as Christian Help offer the less fortunate food, shelter and a temporary peace of mind.

The actions being taken and institutions being created are a start, but there is a large misconception among residents in town of what it truly means to be homeless in this area. The sooner we realize that the majority of homeless people are not the ones we see begging for money on High Street, the better. We need to realize that a majority of this population is made up of families and people who are working. If housing is so expensive that a working mother or father can’t afford to put a roof over their child’s head, that’s something that should concern us all.

Living in Morgantown is Expensive

Morgantown, W.Va. may be a prime location to build your career, but be prepared to dish out your hard-earned cash on the city’s high cost of living.

According to a study by the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research in May 2013, the cost of living in Morgantown, W.Va. is three percent higher than the national average. This is due to none other than sky-high (and continuously rising) housing costs. To be more precise, housing cost is the only factor that makes Morgantown more expensive to live in than Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Tampa, Fla. — nearly 15 percent higher. Researchers found the cost of groceries, utilities, and health care are cheaper compared to other cities, according to WDTV.

A recent Daily Athenaeum article provided insight from both students and landlords on the issue. WVU students believe that these high prices are due to the high demand for convenient location and the increasing population of both WVU and the city of Morgantown as a whole.

“Even though utilities will be included, I think the rise in price has to deal with the fact that my apartment is located so close to the Downtown Campus. Apartment buildings downtown can get away with raising prices because they know students would rather have the convenience at living close to their classes rather than having to drive,” said WVU student Victoria Licata.

According to Rick Biafora, co-owner of Metro Properties, LLC, the significant property tax increase in 2012 is partly to blame.

“Property taxes went up significantly,” Biafora said. “There are increased everyday costs associated with labor to operate. Increased health care costs, increased year-to-year expenses have gone up, and people are starting to calculate these prices.”

…but housing prices in Morgantown have been rising since 2006. Is there any solution?

A Comprehensive Housing Study In The Greater Morgantown, West Virginia Area was conducted in 2011 with a five year (2011-2016) outlook. The document states the obstacles to affordable living are typical to medium-sized cities like Morgantown, and it is not for a lack of trying from the public and private sectors. Instead, it is due to a lack of resources.

The study provides three potential solutions to combat the rising cost of housing over the next couple years:

  1. Production Solutions: Local government can assist with removing impediments and streamlining the regulatory process in order to promote affordable housing. Suggested actions include: land donation, land banking, land trusts, building development capacity, inclusionary zoning, expediting permitting and revising impact fees.
  2.  Financial Solutions: An affordable housing project can be successful with the utilization of loans, grants, bond financing, tax incentives and utilization of non-profits/foundations.
  3. Cost to the Individual Solutions: Methodologies such as down payment assistance, closing costs, rental assistance, lease/purchase homes and addressing the affordability gap are designed to benefit the resident directly.

Morgantown’s population will continue to grow, and it’s time that something is done about the rising housing costs (six years later).

President Clements Leaves WVU for Clemson

Yesterday, Nov. 11, 2013, WVU President James P. Clements announced his departure from West Virginia University. He spent his day in Clemson, S.C. making his first impression as Clemson University’s 15th President.

This news may have come as a shock to many WVU students and Mountaineer fans everywhere, but Clements felt as if he received an offer that he and his family just could not refuse. The career change was not due to any monetary reason, according to The Charleston Gazette,  as he will make the same $775,000 salary he made at WVU. It was more personal for Clements and his family.

After being announced as the new President of the South Carolina university, Clements released a letter to the WVU community to make everyone aware of his reasoning for leaving.

“When my family arrived at WVU we didn’t realize how much we would fall in love with the state and the university. Beth and I knew that it would be very difficult for any university to convince us to leave WVU. However, Clemson is a university that is very special to our family. Beth’s family lives near the university and her two brothers, and a sister-in-law, are graduates of Clemson, said Clements.

I wasn’t looking to leave WVU. In fact, when I first was called I simply responded that I love WVU, the students, faculty and staff and the community. However, after much thought, reflection and prayer, Beth and I decided that this is an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.”

Clements closed the letter with a statement that could make a true Mountaineer misty-eyed.

“We are very proud of what we accomplished together. We wish you all the very best in the future. May God Bless the entire Mountaineer Nation now and always!”

So what does this mean for WVU?

According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Clements departure date has not been set. WVU board chairman James W. Dailey II says that interim leadership plans will be announced in the coming days and weeks until a more permanent decision can be made.

Although it was a sad day for Mountaineers everywhere, many people reached out to show their appreciation for all that Clements has done for WVU during his time here.

Living in Morgantown: Post Graduation

After spending four-eight crazy years in Morgantown, W.Va. as a student, this city can start to ware on people. You may think that the first thing you want to do after graduation is get out of here, but you may want to reconsider. Nationally, Morgantown has consistently been rated as one of the best small cities to live in based on job opportunities, job growth and low unemployment rates.

For example, Kiplinger bases its best cities on criteria such as creative class, job growth, innovation, affordability and diversity. Morgantown was rated seventh for its 2013 ‘10 Greatest Places to Live.’

This isn’t the only media attention Morgantown has gained for its job-friendly environment, either. Forbes rated Morgantown 23rd in its ‘2013 Best Small Places for Business and Careers.’ Morgantown ranked 20th in Southern Living’s ‘The South’s Best College Towns.’ In addition, Morgantown has been rewarded with titles like “3rd Best Small Town in America” (Men’s Journal) ,”Best Small Place to Launch a Small Business” (Fortune) and more.

So, what exactly is so great about Morgantown?

The 2013 Economic Outlook on the Morgantown Metropolitan area says that both Monongalia and Preston Counties will continue to post solid growth in jobs, income and population for a number of years. More specifically, the Outlook estimates that Morgantown’s average annual growth  throughout 2017 will be positive for real gross domestic product (2.5 percent per year), employment (1.5 percent per year), personal income (1.4 percent per year), and population growth (1.3 percent per year).

If you’re not convinced, well, who wouldn’t want to stay here just for the college football tailgate scene?

Sunnyside Up: Building America’s Best College Neighborhood

With nearly 30,000 West Virginia University number-one-party schoolers running around Morgantown, W.Va., neighborhoods surrounding campus take a pretty hard hit when it comes to destruction, trash, and downright filth. Clean it up: that was the goal of Campus Neighborhoods Revitalizations Corporations (CNRC) when they started the Sunnyside Up initiative in 2004.  Currently, Sunnyside Up is one of CNRC’s primary projects.

So what exactly is Sunnyside Up, you ask. Sunnyside Up is a non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of the Sunnyside neighborhood in Morgantown, W.Va. It is a partnership between the City of Morgantown and West Virginia University with a mission to address infrastructure and housing needs in the neighborhoods surrounding the main campus of WVU.

Since it’s beginning, Sunnyside Up has been working with WVU students, Morgantown landlords and local residents on a wide variety of projects. Some of these projects include:

  • The Design Assistance Project: aims to provide professional assistance on property rehabilitation
  • The Facade Program: provides Sunnyside property owners funds to renovate and improve their properties to make them more appealing and safe
  • The Sidewalk Grant Program: aims to clean up and rebuild sidewalks in the area by matching Sunnyside property owners up to $3,000 toward the replacement of sidewalks in the neighborhood
  • The Sunnyside Dumpster Program: cleans and repaints dumpsters in the neighborhood that have been burned, destructed and/or unkept

Ultimately, Sunnyside Up is an organization that was created through the collaboration of residents and students who truly care about the well-being of the City of Morgantown and its people. Through the creation of projects and programs that tackle issues of infrastructure, graffiti, trash pick-up and more, Sunnyside can become “America’s  Best College Neighborhood” one step at a time.

Interested in getting involved? That’s easy — Click here for more info.

Off-campus housing problems: Who’s to Blame?

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It’s no secret in Morgantown, W.Va. – landlords are rumored to be untrustworthy, lazy business people that will rip you off for everything you’re worth. If you’ve been a resident of off-campus housing and never had an issue with your landlord, consider yourself lucky. Many students aren’t pleased with the hand they’ve been dealt.

Fortunately, WVU is in the process of implementing construction plans to improve living conditions for students (College Park redevelopment, University Place and University Park), so it’s time we do our part to make a difference as well.

It’s easy to complain and blame your living problems on someone else, but did you do everything on your end to ensure a good living environment? The university and the Internet provide some valuable tools that students can use to avoid those dreaded slumlords.

  • Student Legal Services: While SLS cannot provide representation, they can provide you legal advice…especially when it comes to leases, contracts and other landlord/tenant issues.
  • WVU Office of Student Life: This online resource gives you information on off-campus housing fairs and an easy way to search for your next house based on number of roommates, price, pets, etc.
  • Guide for Living Off-Campus: This document gives you advice on almost everything you need to know to live off-campus happily. You can find a budgeting page that allows you to plan how much money you will be spending on rent and utilities and how to do that wisely. You can also find advice on how to pick a good location and inspect it before signing your lease.
  • DubVLandlords.com: This website was created in 2007 by a group of WVU alumni who were dissatisfied with their off-campus living while in school. Since then, it has grown exponentially in information and popularity. You can see which landlords made the “Top Ratings” list and which ones were just plain terrible. It allows past tenants to leave comments warning potential tenants what they are getting themselves into…good or bad. Additionally, you can search through off-campus housing availabilities and get information on utility companies in the area.
  • My Morgantown Security Deposit, LLC: My Morgantown Security Deposit says, “Getting your security deposit back should be a black and white issue,” and they will help you get back what you deserve.
  • Parking and Traffic (via Student Legal Services): Parking is an accompanying problem that students face when figuring out where to live. This page provides you with information on parking garages and lots available to students, parking maps for downtown and Evansdale, rates for various garages on campus and parking alternatives for all of the above.

Utilizing your resources can save you a lot of stress and money. These tools allow you the chance to solve your problems and/or completely avoid them in the first place.