Housing prices drive some students off campus

Sophomore Ben Matlin is thrilled to be moving off campus next year. He said he and three friends are looking at large two-bedroom apartments in the $2,800-a-month range, meaning they will each pay about the same as he does now in a Madison Hall triple.

“We got screwed,” Matlin said. “There are three of us in a room that shouldn’t be for more than two people.”

After getting poor numbers in this year’s housing lottery, he and his friends did not select on-campus housing and are searching the Internet and getting on waiting lists for off-campus apartment buildings.

In light of a 5 percent increase in on-campus housing rates for the 2005-06 academic year, students such as Matlin are weighing the freedom and possibly lower prices many associate with off-campus living with the convenience of staying on campus.

Campus Housing Director Seth Weinshel, whose office encourages students to stay on campus, wrote in an e-mail that the benefits of on-campus housing are Internet service, location, safety and a single all-inclusive room charge.

The Board of Trustees set next year’s housing rates “based on recommendations from the administration,” Weinshel said.

“Certain factors are taken into consideration when setting rates, such as the previous price and the type of room and room style,” Weinshel said. “GW tries to set a range of room rates so that students have different cost options.”

Since students spend about four months per semester in Foggy Bottom, next year’s monthly rates for upperclassman housing range from about $930 per student for a double on Mount Vernon to $1,275 for a double in City Hall.

The prices at popular off-campus buildings such as The Statesman, The Savoy and Carriage House Condominiums all average around $1,200 per month for an unfurnished efficiency and $1,600 for a one-bedroom that is often split among two students, building managers said. Basic utilities for many units are included.

Monica Tavares, a senior who has lived in the Potomac Park Apartments on 21st Street for nearly three years, splits the $1,400-per-month rent for a one-bedroom with a roommate. She also had to pay for some furniture because the apartment was unfurnished when she moved in her sophomore year. Her $700-per-month rent, which includes utilities, is significantly less than many on-campus options.

“I like the freedom of living on my own,” Tavares said. “Especially not having to sign people in.”

Students living on campus are subject to stricter behavioral guidelines, enforced by the University Police Department and the Community Living and Learning Center, than they would in many off-campus buildings.

In addition to more social freedom, Tavares said she is happier with the maintenance service she receives.

“And if there’s a problem, maintenance comes right away,” Tavares said. “When I lived in Thurston, it could be days before they replaced a light bulb.”

The University has taken measures in recent years, such as constructing more apartment-style residence halls and instituting a squatters’ rights policy, to make on-campus housing more attractive to upperclassmen. Squatters’ rights allows rising seniors the option of staying in their room assignment for another year. Weinshel said CLLC’s efforts have been “successful.”

“The squatters’ rights process this year focused on seniors in housing,” Weinshel said. “We had three times as many seniors choose to use squatters’ rights than this past year.”

Keri Osborne, a senior living in an Ivory Tower quad, has lived on campus all four years. After hearing about problems her friend had in an off-campus sublet arrangement last year, she decided to stay and take advantage of a good lottery number.

“The prices are high, but what are you going to do about it?” Osborne said. “Otherwise I have to move off campus and deal with the things I don’t want to deal with.”

Arranging off-campus housing involves processes many students do not anticipate, said Mary Bresnahan, a real estate agent at Begg/Long & Foster in Georgetown. She said that high prices, application fees for each occupant and the inability to sign a lease months in advance of moving in often come as surprises to students seeking a rental for the first time.

“They do find it a little frustrating,” Bresnahan said. “So we try to educate them gently.”

Students’ lifestyles can also be very different from those of older and professional residents, said some building managers. Monica Seymour, the resident manager at The Savoy on New Hampshire Avenue, said she was hired “to make sure it doesn’t turn into a frat house.”

“Sometimes they just throw trash around – they don’t have any respect,” Seymour said. “But when I see them interact (with the other residents), it makes me proud.”

At The Statesman, David Slack has lived in an L-shaped efficiency since 1969, when he was a student at GW. He now works for the government and said he has no complaints about the many students who live around him.

The Statesman’s assistant community manager, Gema Morejon, said she has a close relationship with all of her residents. She called the building that students share with older professionals a “beautiful community.”

“We know that we’re the ‘in’ place to live,” Morejon said. “Sometimes students are just not happy with what the University is offering.”

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