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Kris Pang for Spectator

Douglas Chalmers, special assistant to the provost for faculty retirement, said that the new plan will help ease retirement for faculty members.

Updated 3/29 3:20 p.m., correction appended.

Upcoming changes to the Housing Assistance Program will provide faculty with new options for acquiring and retaining housing.

HAP currently provides income supplements to faculty who don't live in Columbia-owned housing, but the program will soon feature forgivable loans, shared appreciation mortgages, and up to 10 years' worth of income supplements to help fund homeownership or rentals. Announced by the Office of the Provost at the end of February, the changes will come into effect July 1, though current recipients of the program will keep their existing benefits and will not be affected by the changes.

“Housing in this area is very expensive relative to academic salaries, so Columbia is in an odd position,” James Applegate, an astrophysics professor and University Senator, said. “The big picture is that this is part of an overall benefit for a compensation package that are either very important or not very important for the faculty depending on where you live and where you want to live.”

“What these new features really do are allow faculty who are being recruited and retained to have access to this region's very expensive housing market,” Vice Provost for Administration and Planning Troy Eggers, who spearheaded the change, said.

The changes come after the University reversed a controversial policy in February 2013 that would have forced faculty to vacate Columbia-owned housing within three years of retiring. The policy was originally implemented in 2009 in response to limited space in University-owned housing. 

Those involved said that HAP—which provides an alternative to Columbia-owned housing by providing funds for faculty to rent or buy their own homes—failed to keep up with tremendous growths in New York's housing market over the past 10 years. According to Trulia, the median price for a New York City apartment in 2014 was $1.24 million, versus $381,000 in 2000. 

“The way it was introduced, the faculty weren't taking advantage of it enough. The housing market has gone through the roof in New York in the last 10, 15 years and the opportunity to buy something has been very low,” Douglas Chalmers, professor emeritus of political science and special assistant to the provost for faculty retirement, said.

Chalmers, who is not part of HAP, said that the previous three-year limit to the income supplement disincentived faculty from retiring.

“If the incentive for purchasing the apartment is good, the incentive for retirement then turns negative,” Chalmers said.

Eggers said the changes will help the University recruit new faculty and convince existing faculty to stay at Columbia.

“The forgivable loan allows a dean to negotiate with a faculty member who is being recruited or retained, to think about when they are having a hard time making a down payment,” he said. “Particularly in this region, a forgivable loan could be helpful because it allows them to get some additional cash up front which then can be forgiven over time.”

Individual deans will work with interested faculty members to work out a loan that meets their needs­. The forgivable loans mean that if certain conditions are met, the faculty would not have to pay back the loan. The shared appreciation mortgages will provide faculty with additional funds to purchase a home under the condition that the University receives a portion of the gains if the home is later sold at a profit. 

Like the current program, the new program has a 185-day habitation requirement for a home to be eligable for the program.

Although the policy change is mostly geared toward recruiting the best new faculty possible by providing housing support, Eggers said that retaining current faculty was also critically important. 

“If a faculty member, who is perhaps currently in faculty housing, has a Columbia apartment, is interested in purchasing an apartment and maybe at the same time is being seduced by Stanford University, it may be that what they need to make that apartment purchase here in New York is this sort of support up front,” Eggers said.

Josephine McGowan contributed reporting.

Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated that the new plans would eliminate the three-year post-retirement income supplements and that current recipients would be transferred onto the new plan. Current recipients will actually keep their existing benefits, which include the three-year income supplement, and the new plan extends such supplements to up to 10 years for faculty not yet enrolled. An earlier version of this article also stated that the 185-day occupancy requirement for primary residences was a new requirement. The requirement already exists under the current plan. Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article also stated that Chalmers was a recipient of HAP when he is actually living in University-owned housing. Spectator regrets the errors.  |  @y_akcaguner

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