Dan Thomas would have liked to live closer to the University of Maryland, College Park, where he works as a research analyst. He and his family tried, in the 1970s, to find a home in College Park.
“Unfortunately, there seems to be a limited supply of affordable quality housing in the College Park area,” Thomas said, adding that he has been in his Bowie home since 1978, a commute that takes him about a half-hour five days a week. “It could just as easily have been College Park. We really tried back then.”
The university is conducting an in-depth study of where employees live, and what they are looking for in a neighborhood, to try to encourage more faculty and staff to live nearby.
The information from the study could lead to a marketing campaign for the surrounding communities or even development of faculty housing around campus.
University Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Robert Specter acknowledged the study is the beginning of a long process.
“Once we know a general baseline, we’ll consider an improvement goal,” Specter wrote in an email, adding that the administration likely will measure progress every couple of years. “This effort is an evolutionary work in progress, and it will take time to determine how much of an impact we can make.”
The university administration wants to use data from the study, which began in September and is due out by the end of the month, to collaborate with municipalities such as College Park and Greenbelt to make those communities a place where faculty and staff want to live and raise their families.
“In recent years, we’ve become a top 20 research university,” university President Wallace Loh said at a Four Cities Coalition meeting, including the municipal governments of College Park, Greenbelt, Berwyn Heights and New Carrollton, on Jan. 31. “Now, I’d like us to become a top 20 college town.”
Only 33 percent of faculty and staff, including both part-time and full-time positions, live in Prince George’s County. The university could not provide data on how many lived in the municipalities immediately surrounding the school.
For the university, keeping faculty close to campus means a more engaged and cohesive community, Specter said. It also means a smaller carbon footprint if employees are close enough to walk, bike or use public transportation.
Part of the problem, Specter said, is that the university is not marketing surrounding communities to incoming employees.
Specter moved to the area from Delaware in September to take the job, and said the process was overwhelming. He ended up in an apartment in College Park, but said that most staff and faculty turn to real estate agents who encourage families to move to Montgomery or Howard counties.
“When Realtors are telling you that you should go live in another county, we have a problem,” Specter said, adding that a perception of lower-performing schools and a higher crime rate steers families to other locales.
“We need to talk about the area in a way that puts our best foot forward. We have great elementary schools, we have bus transportation and the Purple Line is coming. We have events on campus at the Comcast Center and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. We need to talk about these things.”