To lure top scholars, GW to build faculty apartments into renovated residence hall

Media Credit: More than 50 years old and the largest undergraduate residence hall on campus, the Hall on Virginia Avenue will undergo a $35 million facelift, and up to half of the new apartments will go to faculty residents. Hatchet File Photo

The University will open its first cluster of lower-cost faculty apartments by 2016, part of an effort to lure top young professors by offsetting the steep cost of living in D.C.

GW’s largest residence hall for graduate students, the Hall on Virginia Avenue, will also open to professors after a two-year renovation project estimated to cost about $35 million.

Provost Steven Lerman said affordable – and nearby – housing would be a key draw for young professors weighing a job offer from GW, which sits in one of the country’s most expensive real estate markets.

“Faculty, when we recruit them, are looking at the high-priced cost of living in D.C. area,” Lerman said. “We’re thinking about faculty in the early stages of the career, so having housing available close to campus would be a plus.”

GW will join a handful of other urban universities to offer faculty apartments, including New York University, Columbia, Boston University and Northeastern and University of Chicago. Administrators have not yet decided how many of the building’s 120 apartments will go toward faculty rather than graduate students.

Will Youmans, an assistant professor of media and public affairs who started at GW last fall, said he would “definitely take advantage” of on-campus housing for faculty because it’s tough to afford rent in the D.C. area with his junior faculty salary.

“The cost of housing was something I worried about when I accepted the offer, and is still a source of stress,” Youmans said, adding that more affordable housing “would certainly boost both faculty recruitment and retention.”

The University has committed to bulking up faculty recruitment over the next decade, pledging in its decade-long strategic plan to create 50 to 100 new professor positions for faculty with stellar research credentials and a knack for multidisciplinary work.

But the cost of living in D.C. has long been an issue for University departments looking to hire new faculty. A 2007 University report revealed that housing costs sometimes pushed candidates to reject teaching offers at GW and current professors to leave the University.

Costly housing in D.C. was a key reason top candidates said they rejected jobs at GW, according to seven department chairs in the 2007 report. That report also cited low salaries as another factor that kept faculty away from GW.

Salaries for GW professors fall in the middle range among similar private universities. Full professors at GW earned, on average, $156,000, while associate and assistant professors earned $106,100 and $86,900, respectively, last year.

Construction at HOVA will begin this summer and last until 2016, pending approval from the Board of Trustees. The Board approved $2 million last spring to draw up floorplans for the historic building, which served as a hideout for one of the convicted conspirators in the Watergate scandal.

GW currently offers housing for graduate, medical and law students in three buildings: HOVA, Columbia Plaza Apartments and the Aston.

A one-bedroom apartment in HOVA this year costs $12,250 – less than a double room in City, Ivory or Amsterdam halls. A single apartment in the Aston, located at 1129 New Hampshire Ave, costs $17,700.

Those HOVA prices will likely rise when the University fully renovates the building.

GW has not set prices yet, Lerman said. He added that plans for faculty housing only include HOVA at this time, but could extend to other halls at the University.

“HOVA is reaching the end of its useful life and needed a major renovation, so we asked what we can do next,” Lerman said.

Nine professors already live in on-campus halls as part of GW’s faculty-in-residence program, which offers cheaper housing but also requires professors to plan events for students.

The faculty-in-residence program has more than doubled since 2001, and GW will add two or three spaces in the 900-bed “superdorm” that will open in 2016, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Dianne Martin said this week.

She said the faculty housing in HOVA would not necessarily be part of the faculty-in-residence program, but said the options would be “a real benefit for some of the young, new faculty coming to GW who face a very expensive housing market.”

– Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

This post was updated Nov. 22, 2013 to reflect the following:

Correction appended
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Provost Steven Lerman said that prices would rise substantially when the Hall on Virginia Avenue is renovated. Prices will likely rise, but Lerman only said the rooms would be priced comparably to new housing near campus.

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