After mandating junior housing, GW attempts to lower costs

Updated Sept. 3 at 10:07 p.m.

About a month after students scorned GW for mandating juniors live on campus starting with the Class of 2018, the University is trying to make third-year housing options more affordable.

GW Housing officials are working with Student Association and Residence Hall Association leaders to bring down the costs for junior housing options, making them comparable to low-cost apartments near campus, by allowing juniors to live in sophomore residence halls.

The University is also mulling an appeals process for juniors who can’t afford on-campus rates. Seth Weinshel, director of GW Housing Programs, said he is working with GW’s financial aid office as he weighs changes, which could go into effect in three years.

“We certainly don’t want to cause financial hardships for anybody,” Weinshel said.

The housing requirement, which will provide $2.8 million of income for GW each year, was meant to “further support students’ academic and campus experiences,” according to a July University release. University President Steven Knapp said in an interview in July that the policy wasn’t financially incentivized.

Because Amsterdam Hall and Ivory Tower are newer buildings, they’re more costly to live in, Weinshel said. He said his team is now trying to answer the question, “Is there a building or two that we essentially trade, that becomes a junior building, that offers a lower price option for third- and fourth-year students?”

Students lashed out at the housing policy after it was announced this summer. Many cited the financial burden of living in GW’s priciest undergraduate residence halls like Ivory Tower or Amsterdam Hall, which cost between $3,000 and $4,000 more than the cheapest sophomore dorms like Guthridge Hall and JBKO. Most of the sophomore halls do not come with amenities such as dishwashers or dining areas.

The University’s current pricing system breaks down rates into eight tiers – with a difference of more than $10,000 between the cheapest rooms in Thurston to the priciest graduate student housing.

Shuffling juniors into sophomore dorms could save students $3,000 instead of living in the cheapest third-year options – Ivory Tower, Amsterdam Hall and 1959 E Street quads.

Weinshel and SA President Julia Susuni said the University will set exemption policies for financial concerns and determine a way to break down housing assignments by class in the next few months.

Freshmen and sophomores cannot appeal the on-campus housing mandate for financial reasons, but the University’s housing office does exempt commuter students and veterans from living in residence halls, as well as students with religious objections.

Susuni said she hopes to work with Weinshel and other administrators to make sure the policy is fair and offers affordable housing options.

“Those types of exemptions or accommodations are really important,” Susuni said. “I think what’s most important is that it’s a really good opportunity to talk about affordability.”

Pricing differences between residence halls and apartments in Foggy Bottom can be stark and pushed about 25 percent of juniors off campus this year.

For instance, juniors who opt out of an Ivory Tower quad can save $500 per person each month by paying $900 a month to live in a two-bedroom apartment in The Elise Apartments on New Hampshire Avenue.

Two juniors can save about $300 per person per month in a one-bedroom apartment in The Savoy, which costs $1,225 per person, over an Amsterdam double.

While those apartments do not come furnished or include cable and internet, both include utilities and amenities like a rooftop pool.

The new 900-bed mega hall to be built between H and I streets could also offer some affordable options for juniors required to live on campus when it opens to sophomores and juniors in 2016.

Weinshel said the residence hall will likely offer two housing rates. The cost of living in any of the 100 two-bedroom apartments will be in line with rates for Ivory quads – priced at $12,650 this year – while the roughly 200 two-person efficiency apartments will likely be priced in the same tier as JBKO doubles, or about $11,500 this year.

Housing rates have inched up at a pace of about 3 percent each year.

Students in the 14 affinity housing wings, which will offer suite-style housing for 15 to 20 residents with a large, communal kitchen, are also expected to pay the JBKO rate.

South Hall, which is open to seniors only, is likely to remain a fourth-year hall as seniors continue to show interest in the exclusive option. This year, about 700 seniors vied for the 470 beds in the residence hall.

– Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.

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