Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

In Search of Housing Solutions

In Search of Housing Solutions

By Andreas Andrea Hoya Staff Writer

Over 100 students met University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., in Healy Circle yesterday afternoon to protest the university’s handling of the housing situation. Meanwhile, housing officials scrambled to provide increased services and viable off-campus housing options for the 237 sophomores denied junior preference for on-campus housing next year.

The rally was organized by Students Demanding Housing Solutions, a group formed in response to the university’s mishandling of next year’s housing situation that resulted in 237 sophomores being denied junior preference, according the group’s founders. SDHS leaders presented a letter to O’Donovan outlining their three main demands: apology, assistance and aid.

Assistance, according to the letter, would come in the form of the university guaranteeing a practical and affordable living space for each student. For aid, the group demanded the university assist students with transportation, including increased GUTS bus service or transportation stipends.

SDHS is giving the university until 1 p.m. on Thursday “to produce an appropriate response to this letter,” said Andrew Beaton (COL ’02), one of SDHS’s founders. If it does not look like the university is coming through with solutions by that time, the group will assemble and formulate a new strategy, Beaton said.

According to Karen Frank, executive director of facilities and housing services, the university is planning to take steps to assist the students who are currently without housing for next year.

“We have staff working to locate additional landlords willing to lease to students,” she said, adding that the university is looking for blocks of housing to try to maintain the continuity of the campus community.

Frank announced at the rally that the university is in negotiations to obtain 100 apartments for students, however no deal has been reached as yet and she would not disclose any other information regarding the deal. “I would not want to jeopardize our negotiations by divulging information at this time,” Frank said.

Frank would not say how far the university is looking to find additional housing, but did say that it is “looking at a number of areas.”

Frank also said that she is considering expanding GUTS service by extending routes hours and having more frequent runs. The off-campus housing office will be prepared to educate students on what they can expect from off-campus housing, such as rent control and how to read a lease, Frank said. Students will continue to be updated via the OHCS Web site and e-mail as well as proposed town hall meetings to further discuss the issue.

The rally came on the heels of a Feb. 8 meeting where approximately 65 students met in ICC to plan Thursday’s demonstration and seek solutions to their problem. The meeting was organized by SDHS’s three leaders, Beaton, Maurice Perdreau (SFS ’02) and David Sherrin (SFS ’02).

At the meeting, Sherrin described the short term demands of the group ——- an apology, aid and assistance – and its long-term demands, including having the university freeze enrollment, change the policy forcing sophomores to live on campus and move the preference lottery to earlier in the school year. He said that SDHS is “an organization with a straight focus” and is concerned with only the housing issue.

Sherrin illustrated some of the frustrations that students feel about being denied their favored year of preference. “We came here to be part of the Georgetown community and we are not getting that. We are just people that are angry. This can happen to anybody and we just don’t deserve this,” said Sherrin.

Sherrin said that OHCS had 70 off-campus openings for over 200 students and that one employee told a student to look in the Washington City Paper. He also said that the housing office has known about this crisis since the beginning of the year.

However, Sherrin also said that SDHS is willing to give the administration a chance to do the right thing. Said Beaton, “If I didn’t like Georgetown, I would transfer.”

Sherrin wanted the university to admit it “screwed up” and provide an explanation for the delayed communication. “We are not making Georgetown look bad; the administration is making Georgetown look bad. Let’s be a threat. The second we start making noise we are going to get answers,” he said.

Perdreau, who is going abroad all next year, said this is an issue that could ruin Georgetown’s reputation.

Other students also voiced their concerns during the meeting. Cary Page (COL ’02) said, “I just wish the administration would have told us sooner, and being that they didn’t they should do something to compensate, like turning the Leavey Marriott into temporary student housing.”

Janelle Plaza (COL ’02) suggested that they extend SafeRide to Arlington and give students a transportation stipend. “We are really left in the dark and we have to fend for ourselves. It’s hard to know where to turn, and I think the university should play an active role in helping us. I think this meeting was productive,” she said.

Catherine Wise (COL ’02) was disgusted with the administration’s response to the crisis. “This is just one more thing, after the hate crimes, that makes you not want to go to school here. We might as well just transfer since the administration obviously doesn’t value us,” she said.

Some students suggested renovating St. Mary’s Hall into livable space; others suggested that affected students take a semester off; still others wanted demonstrators to follow tour groups and inform them of the current situation.

O’Donovan offered some answers to students demands at the rally, saying that he does not think allowing sophomores to live off-campus is a good idea and has no intention of removing the Conference Center from Leavey. O’Donovan said the school will look into extending study-abroad deadlines, but explained the difficulty of working with an overseas university’s calendar.

Beaton said that he had met with Dean of Students James A. Donahue about the issue before the rally and described him as “very helpful. I think he agrees with us on just about everything we are saying. He wants to help us get what we want and wanted to let us know that he is on board,” Beaton said.

Peter Freeman (SFS ’02), president of InterHall, said he did not believe the administration’s claim that this year’s housing crisis was because of an increased demand for junior year preference. “It wasn’t 200 more than usual. There is a crisis greater than that; there could have been 50 more people, not 200. It just doesn’t add up,” he said.

Freeman said the university does not have enough spaces for upperclassmen because it is enrolling too many freshmen and transfer students due to its need for more tuition money. According to Freeman, freshmen and transfers are given rooms in sophomore dorms like Darnall, which means that sophomores who would normally live in Darnall are living elsewhere, such as Copley or apartments. This then limits the amount of juniors that can get on-campus housing.

“I think a lot of this is being misdirected towards Housing. I think it needs to be more directed towards the university’s financial situation, specifically the Treasurer’s Office,” he said.

Frank confirmed that there are some freshmen living in Darnall this year, but could not project how many would be living there next year.

Amy Demaria, assistant director for public affairs, confirmed that 267 transfers were admitted for this year and the goal for next year is 240. She was unable to get the parallel figures for freshmen at the time of press.

Tom Hier, a consultant with Biddison Hier, Ltd., a firm that works exclusively with universities on housing issues said, “On a residential campus, like Georgetown, you would certainly want to facilitate providing housing for your students and explore whatever options might be available. But I don’t know what those options are in Georgetown’s case. I know at this moment, the local market in Washington is crazy. It’s a booming market right now.”

Hier said that Georgetown is not alone in facing this problem. “It’s been a pretty widespread phenomenon and there is now a renewed interest in building student housing. There is a definite rise nationwide of building housing. I think it’s best evidenced by the growth of the private sector student housing industry,” he said.

The problem of overbuilding housing is also an issue according to Hier, and a university must be careful to balance its ambitions. “You have to be responsible from a financial perspective and to your students. There is an ebb and a flow in student population. Somebody is ultimately going to have to pay for vacancies,” he said.

However, Hier ultimately placed the responsibility of housing on the university. “It would be helpful for a university to facilitate in finding housing alternatives if there is an expectation among students of having on-campus housing and none is available,” he said.

Students at the rally also expressed their displeasure with the current housing crisis and how the university responded.

“I think the university was very irresponsible in the situation. Housing knew this was coming for the last two years when they have had to put students in lounges; that should have been a sign there is a housing problem coming on,” Kevin Feder (SFS ’02) said.

Some students believed that O’Donovan did not address the real issues. When O’Donovan came to meet the protesters he said, “The signs are great, but you can’t live with me next year,” responding to a sign that suggested that, and “What most impresses me is your care for our university.”

“I think he needed more substantive ideas. He definitely talked around the issue. It’s one thing to come out here and joke with students and another to offer real solutions to a real problem. They are coming out here to appease students,” Mark Fleming (SFS ’02) said.

Anthony Bartlett (SFS ’02) said he though the administration’s outreach may have been too late. “I thought it was decent; definitely a nice gesture. The school is so desperate for money and they just lost four years worth of alumni donations. The initial shock that this happened in the first place won’t go away,” he said.

Apartment assistants were informed of the current housing crisis during their spring training in early January, contrary to speculation that apartment assistants were notified of the crunch last fall. OHCS included a warning about the crunch in this year’s lottery handbook.

“We were not informed during fall training of this dilemma. We were informed during spring training,” said Macky Neal (COL ’02), an apartment assistant in Village A.

Frank said that she did not think it was necessary to send students an e-mail detailing the same information OHCS provided to apartment assistants. “It made sense to us to communicate these changes in the lottery handbook, because it was related to the lottery,” she said.

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