Fraternity and sorority leaders are fighting to get lower Townhouse Row rent prices and expanded amenities next semester after several residents voiced financial concerns.
Townhouse Row, which houses five sororities and three fraternities, costs each resident about $1,150 per month – tied with City Hall super doubles and super triples as the second most expensive on-campus living options. Singles in 1957 E Street are the most costly.
Since organization leaders are responsible for filling their houses to 95 percent capacity, members must split the difference if they cannot find enough residents. Some groups require certain classes of students to live in the house; others target sophomores because the University forces them to reside on campus.
“The price is certainly a deterrent in living (in the house) versus other places on campus,” said Rob Ward, president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, which has a house in Townhouse Row.
A New Hall quad, which has two spacious bedrooms and two bathrooms, costs students about $70 less per month than living in Townhouse Row. A double in the Dakota costs about $1,050, a double in Munson Hall about $1,030 and a double in the West End about $900 per month.
Johnnie Osborne, associate vice president and chief financial officer for Student and Academic Support Services, said GW incurred a $14 million debt when it built Townhouse Row, which should be paid off in about 15 years.
He said all money GW gets from on-campus housing is put into one “pool” that goes toward maintaining and fixing up all living options.
He said Townhouse Row is one of the most costly choices because it is a “premium” property and is only available to select students.
Osborne also said Townhouse Row does not have as many facilities issues as older halls such as the West End.
However, residents cited several maintenance problems with the semester-old Townhouse Row, including leaky ceilings, split wood in the floors, and doors that sometimes do not shut and, in turn, set off the alarm. They said their numerous requests to GW Fix-It often take several days or even weeks to be answered.
GW Fix-It should take 24 hours for emergency repairs and 10 business days for general problems, according to the Fix-It Web site, but requests can sometimes take longer.
Osborne said students are experiencing problems because houses “settle” in the first year.
Courtney Barry, coordinator for student involvement in Greek affairs, said two forums will be scheduled for Townhouse Row residents to meet with the Community Living and Learning Center and Residential Property Management. Residents and Vice President Osborne had a forum on financial issues Tuesday night.
“We want to have a voice and be listened to,” said Lindsay Roshkind, president of the Sigma Kappa sorority.
Although several students expressed a desire to lower Townhouse Row prices next year, Osborne said rent will most likely increase 2 percent to 4 percent, probably near the lower end.
“I’ll never say never, but the chances are very slim (rates) will be reduced,” Osborne said.
Increases must be approved by the Board of Trustees.
Some residents said juniors and seniors opt not to live in the house because they are able to find cheaper off-campus living. Off-campus options in Foggy Bottom generally range from $650 to $1,200 per person, depending on location and number of roommates.
Because of Townhouse Row’s 95 percent occupancy rule, more than one person lives in almost all of the Row’s rooms. Some houses have a single room for the organization’s president or another member.
Harris Markowitz, president of Pi Kappa Phi, suggested the University lower its occupancy rate. He said singles would attract more upperclassmen to the house but added that his fraternity has not had trouble filling its townhouse.
Markowitz compared the president’s job to that of a community facilitator, saying the University would never make a CF share a room.
Other student’s suggestions included dropping the rule that people residing in Townhouse Row over the summer must take at least one credit hour and be GW students.
Osborne said GW made the rule because residents would be leaving some of their belongings in the houses, and officials wanted residents to have some University affiliation. He said the rule will be revisited, and it “won’t definitely” happen this summer.
Students were also concerned about paying for initial additions, their bargaining power with the University and allowing students who moved out of Townhouse Row into a cheaper hall mid-semester to pay the less expensive price.