The affordable housing problem is real. Rental vacancy rates are nearly nonexistent, rents are rising as a result and new units are only now starting to be built as the construction industry claws its way out of the recession. So it's only natural to look at some empty buildings full of usable living space and say, why are we letting that go to waste?

Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

The empty buildings in this case are Southern Oregon University's abandoned Cascade dormitories. Jerry Gander, executive chef for SOU's Stevenson Union, says they could be put to use as housing for SOU students and others who are priced out of the Ashland rental market.

At first glance, the idea sounds intriguing, and logical. Why let all those dorm rooms go to waste?

There are several reasons, actually. For one thing, the buildings are more than half a century old, and would need major renovation. They are so energy inefficient that when they were still in use they gobbled up 60 percent of the university's steam heat. Are impoverished students and others prepared to compensate SOU for that cost?

For another thing, the dorms occupy a prime location on campus, a spot university officials have plans for. The ground floors house various university departments while renovations are underway.

Finally, the university is not obligated to be a landlord for non-students, nor would that be advisable, for security reasons if nothing else.

Affordable housing solutions are needed. But obsolete dormitories isn't one of them.