Staff Editorial: As the junior housing mandate kicks in, students deserve answers

Media Credit: Cartoon by Brandon Lee

Next year, housing at GW is going to look a lot different. Last week, the University announced how much it will cost students to live in each residence hall, along with which residence halls will be available to the Class of 2018 – the first junior class required to live on campus since the mandate was announced in 2013.

Right now, housing is weighing heavily on students’ minds. Now is crunch time for rising seniors to begin searching for off-campus apartments, and the pressure is on because South Hall will be the only residence hall available to them. Second- and third-year students are busy trying to figure out with whom they want to live, and where.

We’ve received an alarming lack of detail about housing, especially given all of the changes coming next academic year, and that’s unacceptable. Housing isn’t just about appeasing students who want a newly renovated kitchen or the exact layout they were looking for – it’s about giving them a place to live. Right now, there are too many open-ended questions, and we want answers.

The stage is already set for this to be the most competitive housing assignment process in recent years. GW will not renew the lease on City Hall next year, and International House will no longer be designated for Greek life. Plus, officials said they may slightly increase the size of next year’s freshman class, despite the fact that the University had to work hard to squeeze freshmen into residence halls this year.

GW is on the verge of a serious housing crunch, which is likely the fallout from the three-year on-campus mandate. There will be a total of 7,244 beds available on campus for undergraduates next academic year, according to the University’s housing website. But the total number of undergraduates who will need a place to live next year – if GW accepts between 2,500 and 2,600 freshmen, as it plans to – far exceeds that number of beds.

Of course, there are a lot of things that can and will change. Some students will transfer, some will be exempt from the housing requirement and some will go abroad. But even if all of those variables fall into place just right, it’s still an uncomfortably tight fit. It is very possible that there will be students who were guaranteed housing left without a place to live next year.

Of course, it’s impossible for GW to know exactly how many students will come and go in a given academic year. Many students have yet to find out if their study abroad applications have been accepted, and may not hear back until they’ve already applied for housing. There’s also a possibility that students will choose not to go abroad because of the presidential election. And the number of transfer students enrolled at GW has increased almost every year since 2004.

University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt declined to comment on how or whether the University has predicted the number of students who will transfer, receive housing exemptions or go abroad next academic year.

The numbers are precarious: If they aren’t exactly what GW expects, we could be thrown into a very real housing dilemma. In the past, other overcrowded schools – like Coastal Carolina and New York universities – temporarily put students who hadn’t received spots in residence halls in hotels. We want to know what GW plans to do if faced with the same situation.

The University anticipates “that there will be a number of rising second- and third-year students who are placed on a waitlist for housing” for next academic year, according to the housing website. But the site doesn’t explain what will happen to students who are still on the waitlist once the semester actually begins.

Hiatt also declined to comment on what the University plans to do next academic year if it cannot house all of the undergraduate students who were guaranteed housing, or where those students will live.

On top of all of this uncertainty, the University is also announcing housing assignments in April – a full month later than last year. In December, officials said they made that decision in order to give students more time to figure out whether they need housing next year. But in reality, it’s just given students more stress.

Last year, rising seniors were notified of their on-campus housing status by the last week of February. But this year, that notification is coming two weeks later, and rising seniors were only informed last week that their only choice for an on-campus residence hall is South Hall. Thanks to this late notice, there’s a chance some are already hitting the panic button and signing leases elsewhere, or are scrambling to begin their search for an apartment.

In fact, The Savoy and The Winston House have already started receiving applications for year-long leases, staff there said. There isn’t much the University can do to ease rising seniors’ concerns – apart from perhaps waiving the residence hall’s $300 cancellation fee. That way, if seniors do choose to sign a lease just in case they don’t receive a room in South Hall, they won’t be punished for canceling their placement in South later.

Meanwhile, having enough beds for sophomores and juniors completely depends on the smooth and on-time opening of District House, which will add 854 available beds. Hiatt said that District House is still on schedule, and will open in the fall of 2016. But that doesn’t mean that it will.

While GW may be able to plan much of what happens with construction, there are elements that cannot be controlled – like weather conditions, workers’ strikes, fire or other damage – as we saw happen to the Science and Engineering Hall last week. Hiatt declined to comment on what the University would do if the opening of District House were delayed for any reason. But it’s incredibly important that GW tell us what its contingency plan is, so that students know what will happen to them if they don’t receive housing.

Students are stressed about housing, and that’s not just bad for them. It’s in GW’s best interest for students to be excited about their housing assignments and feel optimistic about next year. It’s unfair that GW has left students scrambling to decode what housing emails say in comparison to what the website says. Many students – sophomores, juniors and seniors alike – might find themselves spending the better half of their spring semester stressing about where exactly they’ll be living, and whether they can afford it.

Of course, the only reason the University is in this predicament is the junior housing mandate. It isn’t something that students wanted, and it isn’t something that this editorial board agreed with. The mandate was put in place to make the University some extra cash, and next academic year, it will. But it’s also making students’ lives much more difficult.

If next year’s housing situation is a mess – and it easily could be – the University will be forced to re-evaluate the junior housing mandate, and decide whether or not to keep it in place. But for now, students are left bearing the brunt of a bad decision.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Sarah Blugis and contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, based on discussions with sports editor Nora Princiotti, design editor Samantha LaFrance, copy editor Brandon Lee, assistant sports editor Mark Eisenhauer and managing director Eva Palmer.

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