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Bloomington Student Housing Grows, But At Others’ Expense?

More than 200 new bedrooms in downtown Bloomington buildings are available for students to rent as this school year begins.  That’s despite a push from Mayor Mark Kruzan to increase housing for seniors and low income residents downtown.

City Planning Director Tom Micuda said the shift may be because builders are more eager to finance construction for primarily student-driven properties with the economy still sluggish and Indiana University’s population expanding.  Moreover, Micuda said there are rules aimed at ensuring all groups have adequate housing.

“Students are a protected class, just like the elderly, just like affordable housing residents,” Micuda said. “And you can’t discriminate against any one particular class as you’re evaluating proposals.”

Earlier this year, IU sold 12 acres of downtown land to the city, which Mayor Kruzan said he envisioned as space for a development to support senior and low-income housing.  While Micuda said the process is often first-come-first-served for new land, he said most building applications ask for a variance from city code so construction may begin.

“All those variances are discretionary,” he said. “In some cases they’re extremely minor.  For instance, the proportions of windows is a code standard that doesn’t always get met. But in some cases they’re pretty fundamental, like density.  Those waivers don’t always have to be granted.”

If the planning department wants to dig in its heels on a minor variance, it can delay a project in the process.  Micuda said it is important to recognize that not all new downtown housing is occupied by students. Some young professionals and even a few fixed-income residents living in some of the units.

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