A new $48 million luxury apartment complex built to alleviate chronic housing shortages at Howard University has been struggling to attract tenants, and students say the reason is that rents are too high. Shortly before the college year began, the new Howard Plaza Towers for 1,600 students had so few tenants that university officials slashed rents 20 percent just to draw enough students to open the project. Seven weeks into the semester, the two university-owned high rises at Barry Place and Sherman Avenue NW are barely 70 percent occupied, even though colorful fliers were sent to every student who applied but could not get into other university housing. "Unless your parents are supporting you or you have a good job, you can't afford to live in the Plaza," said senior Kyle Whitley, who lives off campus. The twin 10-story buildings, built across the street from the main campus of 12,700 students that has dormitory space for less than 30 percent of its students, were completed last summer. School officials had planned for the towers to help relieve the longstanding housing crunch that helped spark student demonstrations at the campus last spring. University officials defend the rents as less than the going rate in the area for accommodations that include all-electric kitchens, wall-to-wall carpeting, computer-controlled air conditioning and heating systems, furnished study rooms, 24-hour security and a private underground parking garage. Prices, after the August reduction, range from $515 for an efficiency to $995 for a three-bedroom unit. Property manager Larry Frelow said to lower the rents further would joepardize the university's ability to meet its obligations. "The rents are at the lowest levels they can go so that we can still pay expenses and the mortgage," Frelow said. But university officials also said that the 796 luxury units were designed for married students and graduate students, which number more than 3,000, and for renting to up to 70 faculty members. Accordingly, the buildings, set up in "academic villages" with courtyards and study halls on each floor, also include a laundry room on each floor, a playground and space for a child care center. To date, however, only 120 graduate students have moved in, and those who have complain that the units are primarily filled with freshmen. Most of them double up by converting living rooms into bedrooms, residents say, and many treat the rental units like a dorm, including leaving trash and beer bottles in the hallway. The rental units, a new concept at Howard, are considerably more expensive than the school's dormitories, although students have long complained about the deteriorating conditions and lack of security in university dorms. Dormitory rooms, including two apartment-style buildings, range from $750 to $1,100 a semester, about $200 to $275 a month, paid at registration. Alan Hermesch, director of university relations, said the average annual family income of dependant Howard students is $29,363, and the average income for self-supporting students is $9,230. Hermesch said 65 percent of Howard students receive financial aid. University officials say they identified problems marketing the units shortly after they began accepting applications. A month before classes were set to begin, less than 45 percent of the units had been leased. "Seven hundred residents would not have been enough to open the building," said Tanya Bender, the assistant property manager. After the students moved in, it became clear that the students who lived there were not the students the university expected the Towers to attract. Only four of the residents have children, according to Tanya Bender, who also lives in the Towers. She said the plan for a child care center was a major factor in her decision to live there, but its opening has been postponed indefinitely. William Keene, dean of residence life, said he thinks part of the problem is that the building was not completed until late summer, after many students already had their housing plans in place. Property manager Freelow said he is not worried about lagging rentals. In recent weeks, he has designated certain floors for graduate students and faculty, and he thinks this will help attract more of the students the complex was built to house. "It was designed primarily for graduate students, faculty and married undergraduates," he said, but the first flood of applications was from freshmen. "As the years go on, {we feel certain that} more and more graduate students will be living on campus."