Last February GW acquired about 29 percent of Columbia Plaza with no “plans to turn the apartments into a part of the residence-hall system,” according to a Feb. 10 issue of The Hatchet. Now GW has placed Columbia Plaza in the housing lottery. While University officials say they do not consider the housing lottery part of the residence hall system, they will have some difficulty convincing the tenants of about 600 rooms not owned by GW differently. The deal is just a recent example of GW using half-truths and legal loopholes to expand outside boundaries officials seem to forget they agreed to 10 years ago.
Columbia Plaza gave GW the right of first refusal on all units that become available as part of the deal, and GW enforces the Student Code of Conduct in the apartments. While the agreement frees up part of GW’s housing shortage, there are deeper concerns at stake.
If the plan to include the complex in the housing lottery was formulated in less than a year, who knows what other plans for Columbia Plaza could pop up next? The decision also draws questions about the University’s intentions for the One Washington Circle Hotel, another complex GW recently bought for “investment purposes.”
Nobody knows what the University has in store for the neighborhood, and GW has been less than forthright about its intentions. Under D.C. law, a property must be 95 percent student-occupied to be considered a residence hall. While GW owns about one-fourth of Columbia Plaza, the University has right of first refusal to purchase a larger part of the complex when other owners sell. Just as alumni returning after four years are surprised to find GW banners on the old Howard Johnson Hotel, Aston Hall and the Dakota, current students are seeing the last of a Columbia Plaza open to the public.
While an on-campus housing shortage has pushed the University to pursue many options for more residence hall space, GW should respect already-obliterated campus boundaries and return to original promises to keep Columbia Plaza as an emergency housing reserve.
Upperclassmen who want to live on campus will find Columbia Plaza rooms a welcome change from other options, but GW cannot excuse deceptive purchasing practices in the pursuit of cushy housing. Secretive plans and underhanded agreements are not the characteristics of a good neighbor. GW needs to be up front about all purchases and stop trying to pull the wool over the eyes of watchful Foggy Bottom residents – not to mention students who are funding projects shrouded in secrecy.