Georgetown Scholarship Program student Amber Athey (COL ’16) never thought finding a place to live senior year would be so hard. Although the university considers GSP students as low-income, Athey was placed on a wait list for senior housing and told that her chances of finding an affordable on-campus residence were slim.
“Low-income students are supposed to have on-campus housing guaranteed for four years,” Athey said. “However, I was not given housing eligibility, and when I asked how I could appeal this process, I was told that there was no way and that I was basically stuck off-campus.”
The on-campus housing scarcity for seniors can be traced to the 2010 Campus Plan, which promised to house 90 percent of undergraduate students on campus by fall 2025. To achieve this goal, the university instituted a three-year housing requirement in 2014, replacing a previous two-year housing requirement and making it harder for fourth-year students to secure one of the university’s limited residences.
Although an additional 385 students began living on campus this fall with the opening of the Former Jesuit Residence and conversion of two floors of the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center into dorms, 100 seniors of the 750 who applied for eligibility were not initially offered on-campus housing by the university, according to Executive Director of Residential Services Patrick Killilee.
Athey was one of those 100 students who did not receive housing. As a result, she said that her financial aid housing stipend does not cover all $1,350 of her monthly rent and utilities expenses or the three months of rent she paid for summer housing. The money she earns from her jobs was factored into her financial aid package, leaving her with little money for personal expenses.
“I don’t go out to eat with my friends,” Athey said. “I hardly ever buy drinks at a bar. To cut utilities payments, I limit my time in the shower, spend most of my time in my room with the lights off and hand wash all of my dishes to avoid running the dishwasher. When I’m shopping at Safeway, I mainly buy store brand and always make sure there is a sale before I purchase something.”
Changes On and Off-Campus
Athey’s story may soon become an anomaly with the opening of more on-campus housing such as the Northeast Triangle Residence Hall next year. This year, 82 more seniors applied for on-campus housing for 2016-2017 than did last year, and the housing office approved all 833 applicants, according to Killilee.
Assistant Dean for Residential Living Stephanie Lynch wrote in an email to The Hoya that the changes in university housing policy are meant to make the student body feel more of a sense of community.
“A primary goal of Georgetown’s master planning process is making campus a more residential, student-centered living and learning community,” Lynch wrote.
Students who study abroad, transfer in or take a leave of absence do not have to fulfill the three-year housing requirement. The Office of Residential Living also worked with the Georgetown University Student Association and the Office of Student Financial Services to provide a four-year guarantee for students who are considered by the university as having high financial need. The exact criteria for this classification are not publicly disclosed. Last year, 150 fourth-year students were granted senior housing for financial reasons, according to Killilee.
The three-year requirement has been met with mixed feelings. Megan Pohl (COL ’17) said that living off campus entails a series of issues she did not consider before the three-year rule’s implementation.
“I like having the convenience of being near campus,” Pohl said. “Living in D.C., you’re going to pay a hefty price either way you run it and having the convenience through Georgetown of housing, Wi-Fi, everything, are just as important to me. So living off-campus brings a landlord and all of those different steps. I don’t want to have to hassle with it if I don’t have to.”
Patty-Jane Geller (COL ’17) fears that the housing rule will prevent her from being able to find roommates who are willing and able to pay for off-campus living and make her own housing costs more affordable.
“My two best friends and I are trying to find an off-campus house, but we’re worried about finding other people who can live with us,” Geller said. “We could think we could pull in people who are younger than us but we can’t do that now because they have to stay on campus.”
A Changing Marketplace
Students aren’t the only ones who have been affected by the new rule. James Mula, a landlord in the Burleith and West Georgetown neighborhoods, has seen the housing market shift dramatically over the last 25 years.
“The biggest change is that [the new policy] has slowed the market down,” Mula said. “Over the last couple years, it was getting crazy. [Housing] caused a lot of panic among students, which was unnecessary, and I think it allowed some of these guys with pretty terrible houses to grab students who were just in a panic.”
Based on experience in the neighborhood housing market, Mula said that he believes the drop in off-campus demand gives seniors less competition against other renters and forces unresponsive landlords to compete for the students who are searching for a residence.
“[Bad landlords] won’t be able to command those top dollars … just because students would be able to shop around a little more and not be rushed in to take it or leave it,” Mula said.
Steers Center for Global Real Estate Director Matthew Cypher agreed with Mula’s analysis and said that in the long run, the policy will help students.
“Real estate is very simple,” Cypher said. “It’s a relationship between the supply of space and the demand of space. When you had two years’ worth of Georgetown students living off campus, the demand was strong, and potentially exceeded the available supply that was present.”
According to what Cypher’s students have told him, the pressure to find housing off campus is not as prevalent as it has been in past years.
“I think that landlords are being a bit more accommodative to tenants,” Cypher said. “They may be willing to accept a lower rent to ensure they have tenants in the space, whereas before they might have been able to drive a harder bargain.”
However, even though the market may settle in the long run, low-income students are at a disadvantage in the short term if they are not granted eligibility through the lottery in future years.
“If there are juniors who can afford to live off campus and want to live off campus, that would open up spots for seniors who can’t afford it,” Athey said. “I just don’t think it’s the right solution to force people off campus who want to live on campus.”
Still, Mula and Cypher think the policy will end up gradually helping all parties involved.
“I think in one sense it will help the Georgetown community overall because through attrition, we get rid of some of the bad operators,” Mula said. “It definitely will give students a better chance of procuring housing that’s safe and paying what they’re getting for instead of some hell hole.”