Housing Guide: Students seek off-campus housing alternatives

Despite the addition of The Gallery in Rosslyn, Va., and Townhouse Row, more students than ever are seeking off-campus housing, students and administrators said this week.

While a larger number of rising seniors indicated they would like to return to campus housing, Housing Services saw a slight decline in the number of Intent to Return forms rising juniors and sophomores filled out, suggesting a larger number of students choosing to move off campus.

Approximately 956 rising seniors, 1,343 rising juniors and about 1,850 rising sophomores filled out ITRs this April. Last year 834 rising seniors, 1,417 rising juniors and about 2,000 rising sophomores submitted forms, said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services.

“Because we have slightly more total students this year and these numbers are close to last year’s, slightly more (students) are looking for off-campus housing,” Chernak said.

Some students who filled out ITRs said they will not register for housing on their assigned day and filled out the online form to see what number they would get.

Several students said they decided to look into off-campus housing options after changes in next year’s housing policies left them unhappy with their on-campus options.

Housing Director Andrew Sonn said his office granted housing exemptions to 84 rising sophomores, compared to 194 last year. He cited expanded sophomore options as one reason for the decline. Sophomores could apply for an exemption from University housing for financial and religious reasons, among others.

In order to comply with the D.C. Board of Zoning and Adjustment ruling mandating all freshmen and sophomores live within campus boundaries, many typically upperclassman residence halls, such as New Hall, will now partially house underclassmen.

“I was thinking about moving off campus, anyway, but when the whole housing debacle happened I decided that it was easier to move off campus than to deal with the University,” said rising junior Janet Bowler.

While the University lifted housing restrictions on students studying abroad last week, many students jumped at the opportunity to move off campus when they were initially told they would have to live in the Hall on Virginia Avenue, The Aston or Mitchell Hall.

“I was considering study abroad for next year and when I found out that they were going to make us live in restricted dorms, I didn’t want to deal with the hassle,” said rising junior Chrissy Swisher. “The opportunity came up to live off campus, so I accepted.”

While GW offers minimal help for students moving off campus, officials said they do not want to restrict students to on-campus options.

“My feeling is, students should have the same rights as any ordinary citizen in D.C., in that there shouldn’t be restrictions on where they should live,” Chernak said.

Local apartment building officials said they do not mind student residents. Norma Price, an office staff member at The Savoy at 1101 New Hampshire Ave., said about 60 percent of the building’s residents are students, while M. Hopkins, the manager at the Letterman House, said students make up about 70 percent of the building’s residents. Both said apartments are still available for next fall.

“Our turnover is pretty good,” Hopkins said. “Students usually don’t have a problem getting an apartment here.”

Chernak said the University does not offer many resources for undergraduates moving off campus. While there is a guide to moving off campus linked from the Community Living and Learning Center’s Web site, the only formal referral system is with Columbia Plaza, in order to help students avoid special occupancy requirements.

Next year, the newly purchased Gallery in Rosslyn, Va., will offer students more independent living, enabling residents to live with people of the opposite sex, sign 12-month leases and have pets.

“We used to have an off-campus department, but the way to (best find housing) is through word of mouth and ads in Washington Post and Hatchet classifieds,” Chernak said. “We haven’t gotten too involved in independent transactions with landlords.”

Some students said finding off-campus housing is an easy process.

“I just walked to all of the apartment buildings around campus one day and found a whole bunch of options,” said rising senior Eric Cohen.

Many students said they listened to apartment recommendations from friends before starting their searches.

“It wasn’t difficult at all to move off campus,” said Swisher, who plans to live in the Elise next year. “I knew of the apartment because some of my friends lived there and said it was nice, close to campus and relatively cheap.”

While administrators point out that there have never been any major problems with students living off campus, apartment building residents have mixed reactions.

“We love the students and never have any problems with them,” Hopkins said. “They’re wonderful, quiet, cooperative and very professional.”

Some building officials said residents have complained about the conduct of GW students.

“We get complaints about how the students behave (from other residents),” Price said. “They’re not considerate of their neighbors. They think (the apartment building is) a dorm or a frat house.”

Officials said complaints of students in off-campus residences have been a minor yet ongoing issue.

“Obviously, there have been certain complaints from Foggy Bottom citizens in relation to excessive noise and inappropriate conduct,” Chernak said. “People who are 18 or 19 years old have different lifestyles from people who are 50, 60 or 70.”

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