Photo Essays: March of the Mini-Dorms

About 10 years ago, a new kind of student housing started popping up in neighborhoods around the University of Arizona.

Developers were buying old houses, doing interior and exterior renovations, and adding a second story on the back. Then they rented them to groups of five or more students. These structures became known as mini-dorms.

The history of mini-dorms in university area neighborhoods has not been a happy one. Neighbors report that the mini-dorms have been the scene of numerous loud parties with attendant traffic, litter, public drunkeness, vandalism, and more. Many long-time homeowners have sold out and moved away.

UA area resident Joan Hall, shown here in her back yard in the Jefferson Park Neighborhood, has been active in the effort to stop the spread of mini-dorms…

Photo essays - Jefferson Park Neighborhood resident Joan Hall in her back yard, Tucson, Arizona

For Joan, the battle turned personal when she learned of plans to raze the historic home next door. The venerable old house was bulldozed this past winter, and mini-dorm construction is now underway.

Most of the homes in Jefferson Park are single story. The presence of a mini-dorm next door means that people like Joan will lose any semblance of privacy in their back yards. Joan uses her back yard for food production, clothes washing and drying, and water harvesting. There’s a cistern near the tree that’s behind her left shoulder.

Unfortunately, the march of the mini-dorms continues in Jefferson Park. A few blocks away from Joan Hall’s place, another historic home was just razed to make way for another mini-dorm…

Photo essays - Jefferson Park historic home razed to make way for another mini-dorm, Tucson, Arizona

It’s unlikely that the native vegetation shown above and below will be preserved…

Photo essays - Native vegetation on the site of a  mini-dorm construction project, Tucson, Arizona

Mini-dorm developers usually rip out the native plants and replace them with crushed rock and large cement driveways. The landscaping that is planted is but an afterthought — and not native to this region.

As for that sign in the above photo, it says "Save Jefferson Park." The section that’s missing says "No Mini-Dorms." I have one in my front window, even though I don’t live in Jefferson Park.

The reason is simple: In addition to supporting my nearby neighbors in their fight against predatory development, I lost my view of the Santa Rita Mountains when a mini-dorm was built in the next block to the south. That was more than six years ago, and I still miss those mountains.

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