PHOTOS BY BRENDAN YOUNG
A CATALYST INVESTIGATION
If you want to live off-campus in a house or apartment that has a brand-new kitchen or a toilet installed after the Reagan administration, then living in a home owned by Colorado College and maintained by Sunflower Management may not be what you’re looking for.
Over a dozen of these off-campus homes—some of which were built more than 100 years ago—are owned by the college and managed by Sunflower.
The houses haven’t been—and won’t be—remodeled or renovated anytime soon, according to officials at the College and at Sunflower Management.
“We bought the property for the piece of property, not the housing, and we do not have a management plan saying we will renovate,” said Robert Moore, Vice President of Finance and Administration.
Colorado College currently owns 15 buildings managed by Sunflower Management that surround campus, from office buildings south of campus, to numerous houses, to maintenance buildings across Monument Creek.
Elyssa Robinson, Marketing Director at Sunflower, explained her management company’s role.
“Maintain the property, so the maintenance on it as far as, you know, preparing the unit for move in, any work orders that are submitted in the time that the resident is there,” she said. “And upon move out we go in and, of course, make it ready for the next tenant. We also collect all the rents, we make sure the tenant are paying on the accounts.”
Some students are unhappy that many of the old homes owned by the college have not had significant remodels in many years and have in cases produced dangerous living conditions.
The lack of renovation is because many of the homes would require significant investments for serious interior remodels, money that CC is not interested in spending on them right now.
“When I took it over, maintenance hadn’t been done for a very long time, and we did give them some money to fix some units that were just terrible,” Moore said. “But since then, we’ve tried to say, ‘You can spend the money you earn on the properties, for the properties.’”
But profit margins for reinvestment in remodeling and renovating homes are minimal, Moore said.
“The profit margin was less than $50,000 last year I think,” he said. This is not enough for the thousands of dollars needed for significant renovations on many of the homes.
“To bring homes to certain codes now can again be hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Paige Stevens, Director of Operations at Sunflower Management, said.
Sunflower Management is hamstrung; remodeling many of these old properties would take more money than they get from collecting rent and the college is unwilling to invest large amounts of money in properties that do not fall under the banner of residential life housing.
“If we go in and have to fix it up, then we’re going to have to charge more,” Moore said.
Moore hesitates to raise costs because he is afraid it would drive students away from renting off-campus, which he thinks is a valuable experience.
“What we’re trying to do, I think, is to provide students an opportunity to have a landlord, who’s not the college, because I think that has some educational opportunities,” he said. “We don’t charge for the property itself, we’re not trying to make a return on our investment or anything. So Sunflower has to cover their costs and there is a small profit they make, probably a two to three percent profit for the year for all their efforts.”
If the home isn’t college-regulated student housing, the plan is clear. “Our approach has kind of been, if we take it back, then we’ll rehab it,” Moore said.
“If we want to be involved—like the cottages we took back—we could take a property back and decide we’re going to manage it ourselves,” Moore added. “Then it becomes part of our housing stock, and then it’s in that pool and we’d spend money to fix it up.”
Robinson also points out that homes owned by the College and administered by Sunflower have undergone some improvements.
“These not be things that the tenants might see first hand, because it is being dealt with in the transitional time that it’s vacant,” she said. “They are going through remodels here and there.”
And that money has been spent.
“We had several homes recently that all needed brand new roofs,” Stevens said. “Those were on average $20,000 per roof. So that [is] in their budget of, lets call it, remodel or fix-up.”
“There have been some homes that have had, for instance, the hardwood floors refinished throughout the entire home,” Robinson said. “That’s pretty significant. Or an exterior paint job.”
But Stevens does concede that the College “typically won’t be making significant remodels until it’s needed.”
“Every year when students move out, they’re not going to put in a brand-new kitchen, for example, or brand-new bathrooms, or brand-new flooring,” she said.
In fact, Stevens says Sunflower hasn’t completed any significant remodels or renovations on any CC-owned off-campus homes.
“What I think we’re trying to do is to give students choices. You can live on campus, you can live in cottages, you can live in Sunflower’s properties, [or] you can live in someone else’s property,” Moore said. “And those are all options, and they come with pluses and minuses, distance, cost, that kind of thing.”
Moore says does not see anything fundamentally wrong with the properties owned by the college and managed by Sunflower.
“There is some student interest in being able to rent off campus for a lot less money, so this serves that,” he said.
Colorado College is not the only owner of properties that Sunflower Management run as there are many independent owners who also contract the management of properties out to Sunflower to be run. Of these, Stevens admits, there are some owners who choose to put more money into their properties then the College does.
But Stevens also qualifies this, saying, “but their rents are higher, to help justify their ability to fix them up.”
In regards to issues that tenants encounter while renting, Robinson reminds that communication is a two-way street.
“I’m really open to hear any input that any of the current tenants have. We can’t make changes, or at least try to make people’s requests, if we don’t really know,” she said.
Charles Simon, Staff Writer