Grounded in reality
The University must improve its on-Grounds housing for upperclassmen
The Board of Visitors recently approved updated enrollment projections through the year 2020. The plan is for the undergraduate student body to increase by about 1300 students while maintaining the current in-state to out-of-state ratio. These planned changes have created some controversy among those who feel that increasing enrollment will damage the on-Grounds environment and overly increase class sizes, but for the most part the changes are seen as necessary to increase tuition revenue and keep pace with state higher-education goals. Though the administration has done a good job of anticipating potential issues with the change and taking action to address them, there is one area that has not been fully addressed and needs to be — upper-class housing.
The task of finding housing for second year and beyond is already challenging. Those who wish to live on Grounds have to hope they get Bice, Lambeth or a language house or they risk getting exiled to Copeley. In the last three years upper-class on-Grounds housing has been filled to more than 97 percent capacity. In addition, many students who do not get the placement they want in the housing lottery decide to live off-Grounds. But appealing off-Grounds housing options often fill up quickly. Overcrowded off-Grounds housing is not just a problem for those who first try the housing lottery. According to the leasing manager of MSC Apartments, almost no apartments are left by December, and the majority are leased as soon as October. Students who are not able to find a good place in time must live in highly inconvenient locations or try to fit too many people in one apartment or house.
After more than a thousand new students are added to the mix, these housing problems be exacerbated and prices will rise to meet the increased demand. According to the MSC Leasing Manager, most apartments near the Corner cost at least $550 a month. Off-Grounds housing is already difficult for many students to afford, and if prices rise low-income students may need to live farther away from Grounds in lower quality housing. The construction of the new Alderman Road dorms will compensate for the influx of new first-year students, but no current action is being taken to counter the same issue for upperclassmen.
What could the University do? The first step would be to expand existing on-Grounds housing. Just as the old Alderman Road dorms were torn down and replaced by larger — and much nicer — dorms, Lambeth and Copeley could both be reconstructed to increase the number and quality of the apartments. Since the expansion of the first-year dorms is nearing completion, a portion of the budget allocated for those dorms could be transferred to upper-class dorms. That way these expansions would not appear to be a new project but the logical continuation of the current construction. More demand for on-Grounds housing, and therefore more revenue for the school, would create more engaged communities in Lambeth and Bice. More visible upper-class dorm culture would further increase the attractiveness of these locations as viable housing options.
The increased popularity of on-Grounds options would also ease many of the issues with off-Grounds housing. With less demand for the limited number of residences, students could make better living decisions because they would face less frantic competition for off-Grounds apartments and houses. The dates when leases would be signed could be delayed accordingly, which would help address the current gap between the times for on and off-Grounds decision making. Housing companies would also be forced to offer more competitive rates to compete, which would facilitate further diversity in current off-Grounds living areas.
Thankfully, Housing and Residence Life recently hired a consulting firm to conduct a demand analysis for upper-class housing. Whatever actions their analysis leads to will hopefully address most of my concerns. Increased enrollment is necessary for the University to stay competitive in a struggling climate for public universities. But, for the change to be successful, steps need to be taken to address the inadequate housing options for the upper classes. The growing student body is an opportunity for the University to not only improve the living conditions of its students, but also to generate additional revenue through housing and further protect our status as an elite school.
Forrest Brown is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.