SA president tells trustees that students are overcharged for on-campus housing

The top student representative delivered a sharp message to the Board of Trustees on Friday: GW is shortchanging students for their housing.

Student Association president Julia Susuni told the University’s highest governing body that students living in sophomore and junior housing pay about $3,000 more each year than students living off campus, according to an analysis of 11 popular apartment buildings near campus. That list included apartment buildings such as The Savoy, The Statesman and The Avenue.

“Our students are paying more and receiving less, and we believe this is a very important issue,” Susuni told about two dozen trustees at the annual fall meeting.

The SA and Residence Hall Association began analyzing costs after the University announced this summer that all juniors would be required to live on campus, starting with next fall’s freshman class. The mandate will bring in about $2.3 million for GW every year to use for academic and research programs, administrators estimate.

Students living in on-campus quads pay an average of $21 more per square foot, but live in about 40 fewer square feet. The cost comparison took into account amenities like washers and dryers, pool and fitness facilities, as well as furniture, cable and internet costs.

The study estimated the cost of furnishing an apartment at about $530 based on the price of brand-new Ikea furniture, including a bed, tables, chairs and a couch.

“The information is very eye-opening,” Susuni said in an interview after the meeting. “It’s showing that for the amount of money that students are paying to live on campus, they are essentially receiving less than what they are paying for.”

Research revealed that students save between about $1,400 and $3,400 by moving into apartments off campus. Students also gained between 16 and 76 square feet per resident living off campus.

Susuni also told Board members that maintenance issues are typically resolved more swiftly off campus.

Administrators said this spring that GW resolves about 75 percent of residence hall complaints within five days. But the study found that apartment building managers commit to completing repairs either the same day or within three days.

The University pledged to speed up maintenance response times this summer after summer residents’ “GW Housing Horrors” Facebook group heaped negative media attention onto GW.

Seth Weinshel, director of GW Housing Programs, said in an interview that he “wasn’t surprised” by the SA and RHA findings, and maintained that residence halls are priced according to market rates.

But Weinshel added that the study didn’t factor in the GW student community, which “you can’t necessarily put a price on.”

To address financial impact of the third-year requirement, Weinshel said last month the University could offer sophomore residence halls to juniors on tight budgets. Moving from Ivory Tower to a cheaper sophomore hall, such as JBKO Hall, would save a student $3,000 over the academic year.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski added that house staff, faculty in residence and hall programming also increase the cost of living in residence halls.

“We think of those as investments in the life cycle of the students and the amenities in the building, which are not like a gym in the building or a tanning [area] on the roof or a pool,” Konwerski said.

Susuni said she hopes students will be able to weigh in on the housing rates of projects such as the 900-bed “superdorm” building. Weinshel said the building’s two-person rooms and four-person rooms would be comparably priced to their counterparts in JBKO Hall and Ivory Tower, respectively.

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