Confronting housing inequities

“Dorms like palaces.”

This is what caught my eye the most from the U.S. News and World Report college rankings that I have somewhat followed for the past three years. Being the no. 53 college in the nation won’t get my friends’ attention, but having some of the best cribs in the country is something that I can brag about.

I have been fortunate enough to take advantage of these posh accommodations during my college career, having lived in New Hall and Ivory Tower after a dismal experience in Lafayette Hall. While I and hundreds of other students enjoy the best housing many of us will occupy for the next decade, the student body living in comfort must not turn away from the housing crisis facing this University.

Following a year of complaints from juniors who were locked out of campus housing, GW decided to designate residence halls by class this year. While some University officials declared the first phases of this potential solution to our housing woes a success, a check of the CLLC Web site late last Tuesday night showed some tough numbers. With less than half of current freshmen finished choosing housing, there were only seven doubles available on the Foggy Bottom campus.

A large portion of rising sophomores will no doubt be relegated to live on the Mount Vernon campus, a place to which many of them will probably not be too happy to move. According to a D.C. Board of Zoning Appeals order mandating that all freshmen and sophomores be housed on campus, they will have no other options. This issue is more than just about bitter students and a 15-minute ride on the so-called Colonial Express. It underscores the inequities caused by our school’s housing shortage.

Even though it isn’t a law, there is an expectation that a university is obligated to provide rooms for its students, and maybe even an education along with it. This is less of an issue at schools in rural areas, where four students can rent a house for cheap. But the burden on a college increases in a city where finding affordable housing is more difficult than finding a cab that doesn’t smell like vomit from its weekend bar trips.

GW is failing in this department. Our accommodations may be of extremely high quality, but that doesn’t matter when students need to jockey for position to find a place to live. This year, rising sophomores carry the burden of this shortage, with the Vern becoming an undesirable but highly probable option for many students.

Furthermore, there are still a number of juniors and seniors, based on a handful of people I know who did not secure accommodations for next year, who are missing out on top housing. It seems as if the shift to homogeneous dorms has created more restricted options and resulted in even more inequity. For example, how would a senior wanting to live in New Hall but unable to do so because of its designation as junior housing feel when his or her friend was able to squat their New Hall room for senior year? Or what about the junior who doesn’t want to pay the cost of New Hall but is unable to live in one of the older, cheaper dorms?

So here is the solution: as long as GW is unable to accommodate its undergraduate student body’s housing needs fairly, all seniors should automatically be removed from the campus housing selection process. In addition, CLLC should expand its services to give these students a variety of resources, including seminars, literature, and a guide to area apartment and housing listings, to support this portion of the class with tools for finding housing. In this way, GW can fulfill its responsibility to provide a shelter for its students by opening up more space and providing support even to those who must move out into the city.

The long-term solution is already in the works: the construction of more housing. With the almost-completed F Street hall and future dorm projects ready to go up, the University has shown a commitment to expanding its shelter. But rather than constructing more generously-sized units with full amenities, planners should seek to build more compact spaces that would be expected in a college setting. Sure, not everyone will be living in a palatial space, but I can guarantee that many people would forgo some comfort to avoid a trip to the Vern or a foray into the D.C. housing market.

We still don’t know how this year’s housing selection will play out; it may be as close to a complete success as possible. But early indications show a flawed system that constant tweaks are unable to fix. What’s the point of “dorms like palaces” if only a select few share in them, while others are forced into undesirable locations? Before we can use our great housing as a pitch to prospective students, let’s make sure that we create a fair system that creates the best possible situation for everyone.

-The writer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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