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West Lafayette passes housing resolution, encourages Purdue to come to the table

Council member Nick Deboer explains his support for the resolution (Ben Thorp/WBAA News)
Council member Nick Deboer explains his support for the resolution (Ben Thorp/WBAA News)

The West Lafayette City Council unanimously passed a resolution encouraging Purdue University to consider housing when making decisions about admissions.

The resolution comes as a recent rental housing report found zero percent vacancies in much of the city’s downtown — largely driven by the increase in Purdue’s student population.

Councilmember James Blanco sponsored the resolution. He said it’s a call to action for the city and Purdue.

“It’s been a problem of having low vacancies and low availability of housing to a point where it’s really more of a crisis at this point,” he said. “It’s pretty unsustainable, especially when Purdue keeps increasing the number of students.”

“We need to come to the table. We need to discuss this,” he added.

Council members differed on just how much Purdue should shoulder the burden of increasing housing in the community — but all agreed that more open communication was needed with Purdue.

Councilmember Nick DeBoer said part of the housing crisis stems from the city’s reluctance to approve new developments — including an unwritten moratorium on high-rise buildings that started in 2019.

“That was an incorrect judgment on our parts,” he said. “We needed more at that time and the data never came on saying that we didn’t need it.”

DeBoer said his support of the resolution is two-pronged. He believes Purdue needs to create more student housing, but he said the city should also move forward with new developments.

“I reject the premise that it’s completely on the university to do this,” he said. “Whenever an employer adds 1,000 jobs to the community we’re not like ‘hey, Henry Ford, where is our housing?’ There is an expectation that the community will be able to absorb that.”

But DeBoer said Purdue needs to communicate its plans to the city, especially if the university knows how much it plans to increase admissions.

“If the university knows how many students they want to have by the end of the decade… tell us, then plan for it,” he said. “Or if you don’t plan for it, at least tell us the number so that way we have an idea of how many we need to construct in the meantime.”

“If the communication ends up opening up, we’ll understand how much housing we need to say yes to in the next five, 10, 15 years,” he said.

Council president Peter Bunder said in recent years, Purdue’s communication has been limited to alerting the city what it would do regardless of whether the city felt it was a good idea.

“There has got to be better communication. And more than better communication, there has to be a common resolve to address the issues,” he said.

West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis has expressed reservations about the resolution making demands of the university. But he said he’s comfortable with the final product.

“Well, I think we’re in a position to make them aware of our challenges,” he said.

A spokesperson for Purdue University noted that efforts to increase housing capacity on campus are underway with more information on the matter expected from the school’s Board of Trustees in April.