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Posts about Student Housing


A Fairfax City community center could become George Mason student housing

A small community center across from George Mason's Fairfax Campus is up for redevelopment, and Fairfax City is weighing options for what to do with it. One possibility is to make it student housing, a move that could help bring the school and its surrounding community together.

Image from the City of Fairfax.

Called Green acres, the ten-acre plot of land housed an elementary school from 1961-2000, and is now home to a small community center. The building is in dire need of repair, and last year the Green Acres Feasibility Committee suggested an expanded community center, a new school, or privately owned student or senior housing as possible new uses.

The Fairfax City School Board currently holds a covenant over the land, and can build a new school there if it decides that's what it needs. That the city's school-age population is growing (it has steadily increased over the last 15 years, from 2,652 in 1999 to 3,170 in 2015) could be a reason to do that.

The feasibility committee has received reports on other possible sites for relocating the community center. City staff identified Van Dyck Park, City Hall, and the current site of Paul VI Catholic High School as among the seven "finalists" for locations of a new center. Because Green Acres is at the edge of the city, staff documents note that perhaps a more central location like Van Dyck Park or City Hall would provide better accessibility to residents. There is, however, limited space on the City Hall campus and using land on Van Dyck Park would require collaboration with the Fairfax County.

CAPTION CAPTION CAPTION. Image from the City of Fairfax.

Green Acres could become student housing

Over the past four years, city and Mason officials have taken steps to integrate the campus with Fairfax City's historic downtown, a 15-minute walk down the road. A city and school more in step with one another could mean public and private amenities, from transit to retail, that better served residents of all kinds.

Making Green Acres a place where students live could be a great way to help unify Mason's historically isolated campus with the surrounding community. The very definition of a college town is, almost universally, students and "townies" living amongst each other, and Green Acres is one of only a handful of options for providing private off-campus housing that's within the immediate vicinity of classrooms.

Green Acres sits within the City of Fairfax and right next to George Mason University. Image from the City of Fairfax.

With the city currently finishing a review of its zoning ordinances and on the path towards reviewing its entire Comprehensive Plan, now would be the time to set student-centric priorities for Green Acres. While there are significant challenges, like reconciling the value of the land with housing that's affordable for students, city officials should prioritize working with developers who are interested in extending the student population further into the Fairfax community.

The feasibility committee, which includes representatives from Fairfax City's city council, residents, and George Mason, will present a white paper on the option of student housing to the council within the next month. Jon Stehle, who was recently elected to the council and served on the Green Acres Feasibility Committee, told the Fairfax Times earlier this month that the report would be "a pretty good analysis of how to think about what to put there."

After the committee weighs in on how realistic turning Green Acrews into student housing is, city officials will have a better understanding for how the land should be used, and likely integrate that discussion into its overall Comprehensive Plan review.


Interning in DC? Here’s how to find a place to live.

DC's shortage of affordable housing options touches lots of permanent residents, but summer interns struggle with the problem as well. Below are three ways to find a place to stay when you're only coming to DC for the semester.

My home during my internship, at Connecticut and Cathedral NW.

Each season, a new wave of unpaid interns in search of work experience floods the nation's capitol. And before interns even arrive to DC, the search for housing acquaints them with the city's high cost of living. The housing market is already short on affordable options, and the need for short term leases and access to public transportation means even more barriers.

As most interns in DC are unpaid, the main qualifications for housing are that it's cheap, close to transport, and a short term lease. These three requirements can make for a lengthy and exhausting housing search within the current DC housing market.

Here are three go-to options for interns who are on the hunt:

1. Get housing through your school or program

Some lucky students' universities pick out housing out for them, usually in a building specifically designed for students. Because of the demand, many apartment complexes in DC are starting to specialize in short term leases for these students interning in DC. Universities sending students to DC frequently use this option, but interns searching for a short term lease can use it as individuals as well.

One example is where I currently live, Washington Intern Student Housing, aka WISH. WISH, along with Cheap Intern Housing and Cassa Housing, are some of the options for students searching for apartments with short term leases mostly occupied by students. At the WISH Woodley Park location, interns are offered a convenient location, but at a steep price: Places start at around $1,000 a month, and that's in a three-bedroom apartment where you're splitting a room.

The kitchen in my WISH apartment.

2. Stay in a local college dorm

Another option for summer interns are the university dorms from schools like American, George Washington, and Georgetown. This option offers students a chance to experience life at an University in DC, but for a price ranging from $310 to $450 a week for shared rooms.

These universities have web pages (linked above) dedicated to attracting and informing students about their summer rates and availability, along with contact information or an application for housing.

3. When all else fails… try Craigslist

The third option for interns is the exasperating Craigslist search. This option is not for the faint of heart, especially during the summer when the demand is the highest. I have some friends who sent dozens of emails to potential roommates, but even after weeks of trying never found a place to live.

In a Craigslist search, make sure to respond to a listing as soon as possible, but also be wary about your potential roommates. If your Craigslist search is not successful many interns might just turn to option one intern apartments, even though they can be a higher price.

It's possible to feel at home even if you're only here briefly

Once you find housing, be aware that life as an intern can be tough. It's not uncommon for city dwellers to have to make lots of maintenance requests, for everything from rat removal to broken refrigerators. It can also be hard to assimilate, as you're in DC for much longer than a tourist, but you aren't here for good.

Decorating a space is a go-to way to turn it into a home.

But the benefits to interning in DC outweigh the cost and stress of housing. In DC you have the opportunity to explore countless museums (for free), attend enlightening events, and network with inspiring people. And when it comes to feeling at home in your apartment, try making and spending time with friends, decorating, and cooking family recipes.

Do you have any tips for interns coming to DC?


Will Georgetown's campus plan collapse the area's rental market?

In 2012, the Zoning Commission approved Georgetown's latest campus plan. A central part of the plan is that the school committed to providing 385 new on-campus beds by the fall of 2015, with the long term goal of housing 90% of its undergrads on campus by 2025. With that first deadline rapidly approaching, is the rental market already feeling the pinch of reduced demand? A lot of residents I've talked to have concluded as much, and some anecdata supports that.

Image from Rob Pongsajapan on Flickr.

Recently, people have noticed homes still available for rent that would usually be already rented for the fall. And one particularly prominent house that has been rented for years (and is awfully shabby for it) is not only vacant but now for sale. It's the home at 3348 Prospect. This large home can be yours for $3 million.

One argument I've made to those trying to force Georgetown to house more students on campus is that the rental housing would simply be filled by non-students, primarily 20-somethings, who can be just as loud and annoying as college students (I certainly was). But the Prospect Street house may point to a flaw in that argument. According to the listing, the house rents out nine "units" for a total rent of $18,000 a month. That wasn't a typo.

Georgetown's Prospect House. Image by James Emery on Flickr.

It's unclear how many bedrooms the house has (the listing could be read to mean nine, but also up to twelve), but it's very unlikely that anyone other than a Georgetown student would be willing to pay that much to share that building with so many people. And with so many new condos all over the city much closer to more popular neighborhoods, maybe there really aren't that many 20-somethings that want to move to Georgetown period, let alone at the usurious rates that undergrads pay.

And it seems that a collapse in demand is about the only thing that would explain why someone would want to sell a property producing $155,000 a year net profit. The listing claims the $3 million price was arrived at to achieve a 5% capitalization rate. This would be a decent cap rate, but only if it's actually true. And maybe the fact the owner is selling suggests that he or she doesn't think it is.

A version of this post originally ran on The Georgetown Metropolitan.


An entire student neighborhood bites the dust in College Park

New investment is pouring into College Park, seeking to turn this town known for undergrads and traffic into an urban hub for all ages. As part of that transformation, the famous Knox Boxes student neighborhood is transforming from the ground up.

College Park's Knox Boxes are just a memory. All photos by the author unless noted.

For decades, the Knox Boxes epitomized the University of Maryland's image as a party school. The cluster of 25 low-rise 1950s-era brick apartment buildings was just south of the campus, behind the seedy bars and pizza joints on Route 1.

The same intersection (Guilford Drive and Hartwick Road) in 2006.

For many undergrads, a Knox Box apartment was their first taste of living on their own, and the small backyards and proximity to other neighbors made for comfortable college living.

But they were also cheaply built and poorly maintained. During my freshman year at Maryland, two students died in separate Knox Box fires.

As Maryland became known more for academics than basketball riots, the university and the City of College Park started looking at ways to redevelop the Knox Boxes.

Getting multiple landlords to sell was difficult, but by 2013, a single owner had purchased most of the Knox Boxes. That year, the city approved a plan from developer Toll Brothers, usually known for suburban McMansions, to replace the Knox Boxes with Knox Village, a luxury student apartment complex for over 1,500 students.

The future Knox Village (as seen from Guilford and Hartwick). Image from WDG Architecture.

Like most of the new student housing going up in College Park, Knox Village's apartments and townhomes will have gourmet kitchens and amenities like a pool, gym, and covered parking garage. The complex will have a series of courtyards with a grand staircase (which Toll Brothers compares to the Spanish Steps in Rome...), and two spaces for shops and restaurants.

Mayor Andy Fellows called the vote a "landmark occasion." Construction began last summer, though a few of the Knox Boxes whose owners didn't sell remain.

Change in College Park goes well beyond the Knox Boxes

Knox Village is just one piece of a bigger plan to recast College Park as more of a college town, hoping to attract post-graduates or even families. The university and the city recently opened a charter school to keep more faculty in the area. In a reversal from 10 years ago, when the administration opposed the Purple Line running through campus, president Wallace Loh has been a strong supporter.

More high-end student apartments are going up on Route 1, and last week Target announced plans to open one of the nation's first Target Express stores inside one of them. The university itself has been buying up properties in downtown College Park, and they're partnering with developer U3 Advisors to buy a former bar and turn it into a branch of Milkboy, a Philadelphia music and art venue. Even Ratsie's Pizza, a longtime favorite of the drunk and hungry, will become a Nando's Peri-Peri.

Even as new development comes to College Park, bits of the old remain.

Not even six years since I graduated from Maryland, much of College Park is unrecognizable. Having lived on Knox Road as an upperclassman, I admit I'm a little nostalgic about losing the Knox Boxes. It's also worrisome that so much of the new student housing is very expensive and might make the already high cost of attending college even higher. On the other hand, thousands of new student apartments are coming in, and as the supply increases, rents are likely to fall.

When I lived there, College Park could be frustrating if you weren't into the party scene. There wasn't even a grocery store within walking distance of campus. It's exciting to see College Park develop into more of a college town. That's not only great for students and faculty, but also for neighbors who aren't even affiliated with the university.

Check out these photos of the Knox Boxes in 2006 and today.


Town-gown planning can be more constructive

The DC Zoning Commission will hold its final hearing tonight on the Georgetown University campus plan. Some neighborhood groups and ANC 2E continue to strongly oppose the plan, despite a number of concessions on the part of the university. Does DC's campus planning process actually help solve problems or just create strife?

Photo by the author.

The process does not encourage effective dialogue or compromise. In this case, the university has made concessions at several points directly in response to opponents' concerns, with seemingly no effect on the tone of the conversation.

The university has removed a proposed smokestack, agreed to add hundreds of residence beds, removed proposed housing and retail on the 1789 block, reduced the proposed future graduate student population by thousands, added a direct shuttle between campus and M Street, and expanded the number of police patrols and trash pickups. Yet neighborhood groups remain opposed.

It seems clear at this point that there are probably no concessions the university could make that would satisfy the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG), the Burleith Citizens Association (BCA), or ANC leadership, short of building enough housing for 100% of undergraduate students. That would be an extremely difficult and expensive proposition for the university, and it's not clear where this housing could go.

The opponents' position suggests that the very presence of students in the neighborhood is an insurmountable problem. This ignores the many positives that students bring to the community, and the fact that many non-student residents choose to live in Georgetown because of its liveliness and urban density. My wife and I feel safe walking home at night knowing there are other people walking about. Without the presence of so many students in the neighborhood the streets would be emptier, and would feel darker and less safe.

Students in the neighborhood are not inherently a problem. The real issue is bad behavior from some students, and what steps the university should take to mitigate those specific negative impacts. That is the sort of conversation that could happen, and that the planning process should encourage. Unfortunately, it hasn't.

Instead, positions have become entrenched and opposing sides treat each other as enemies. For example, the university established the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP) to respond to neighborhood issues, but residents have encouraged neighbors to avoid SNAP and call 911 for any student-related problem, then say that SNAP is ineffective and cite the rising number of 911 calls as evidence of worsening behavior.

As a Georgetown resident and a Hoya alum, I think we deserve a better dialogue. But how do we get to a more meaningful conversation?

Structural changes may be necessary.

Campus plans are reviewed every 10 years. The very nature this 10-year cycle leads to brinkmanship and negativity. Some people feel that they have no leverage with the university in the intervening 9 years, and that they must obtain a decade's worth of concessions all at once. Universities think the same way. They increase their focus on town-gown issues in the years leading up to a campus plan hearing, and sometimes don't treat intervening years as seriously.

Also, like in many local political issues, the loudest voices have the most impact. People with extra time, or who feel particularly aggrieved, become the main voices of the neighborhood, while the larger number of everyday people goes unheard. I have spoken personally to many neighbors, and while many have specific concerns about student behavior or Georgetown, none of them suggest the extreme position of the opposition groups (and the DC Office of Planning) of pushing 100% of students onto campus.

This is a difficult problem. It may take some experimentation on the part of the city to determine if a better process is possible. Here are a few ides.

Option #1: Abolish the 10-year campus plan process entirely.

With the rewrite of the city's zoning plan, DC could determine which development projects or campus issues should be subject to zoning review, and use the regular public hearing process for them. While doing this would remove some of the long-term planning conversations, it would also remove some of the once-a-decade brinkmanship, which would ensure more frequent conversations between universities and neighborhoods.

Option #2: Create a college and university category in the zoning code.

The current zoning code classifies colleges and universities as residential areas and requires a "special exception" for any non-residential use. This is despite the fact that many of these institutions were established decades or centuries before the zoning laws, and have never been primarily residential. Undergraduate students represent around 10% of the city's total population, but the zoning code treats them as abnormal, and frames discussions of university expansion as having an inherently adverse impact.

The creation of a specific zoning category for colleges and universities would allow a larger discussion of the positives these institutions bring to the city, what negative impacts they may create, and the proper roles and responsibilities of universities in 21st century Washington.

A new category would be particularly helpful given the number of universities that have been opening buildings in the District lately, whether for "semester-in-DC" or more comprehensive educational programs.

Option #3: Broaden the conversation about the campus plan.

Several meetings were held in the run-up to the zoning commission hearings, but a small number of people have controlled the debate. Ideally more people should be brought into the conversation. Rather than allowing public opinion to be filtered through the parties directly in support or opposition, perhaps a citywide body such as the Office of Planning should be holding town halls to get more broad public input.

Option #4: Broaden the involved parties.

Universities are integral parts of their communities in many ways. They may offer library or gym memberships, allow for auditing of classes, or open some lectures to the general public. More such efforts by the university to directly connect students with non-student neighbors would begin to build the relationships and trust that are necessary for more positive outcomes. Rather than thinking of universities as an "other" to be opposed, neighbors might be more inclined to look for mutually beneficial solutions.

I have lived in Georgetown for the better part of the past 15 years. I hold undergraduate and graduate degrees from Georgetown University. We can do better. We deserve better. Let's make it happen.


Neighbors oppose redevelopment of Dupont parking lot

The First Baptist Church of Washington proposes to build a 9-story, 228-unit apartment building on the site of its surface parking lot at the corner of 17th and O Streets, NW. Some nearby residents object to the plans due to concerns over noise, parking, and the specter of the project becoming a student dormitory.

The existing site. Photo by the author.

The site is one of the last remaining surface parking lots in the Dupont neighborhood. Building apartments would improve neighborhood walkability, increase the city's scarce rental inventory, and provide needed revenue for the church to continue its charitable activities.

The main hurdles for the project before development can proceed are endorsement by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 2B), approval by the Historic Preservation Review Board, and acquisition of a zoning variance needed for a portion of the lot.

Proposed building. Image by Keener-Squire Properties.

The property is currently split between two zones. The portion of the lot facing 17th Street, NW is zoned to allow 90-foot buildings. The remainder of the lot is zoned for 65- 70-foot buildings. The project will need a zoning variance in order to build to the 90-foot limit allowed for buildings on 17th Street. Even with that variance, the proposal only calls for half the density permitted by zoning.

Most of the surrounding buildings are around 90 feet tall, so this proposal fits nicely with the established neighborhood scale. The building design by architecture firm Eric Colbert and Associates has already been approved by the Dupont Circle Conservancy and garnered positive reactions from members of the ANC. Commissioner Mike Silverstein commented that the project's design fits nicely with the modern architecture of other nearby buildings.

Although it does not appear to be their main concern, project opponents have seized upon the height variance issue in order to stop the project as proposed.

Some residents who attended this month's ANC meeting were vocal in their opposition to the scope of the project. Fliers were distributed to meeting attendees that warned of noise, trash, and parking issues. Opponents' main concern seems to be that this development could become a "dorm" for undergraduate students and young people.

While it is true that the proposed building will consist of one-bedroom and efficiency units, 8% of which will be set aside as affordable housing, there is little chance the building will become a dorm. Property management company Keener-Squire reports that of the over 1,100 similar units they manage in the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods, only about 2% are occupied by undergraduate students.

Johns Hopkins University does maintain a campus in an adjacent building, but it houses graduate programs attended primarily by part-time students who are unlikely to be living in the area specifically for school.

As for parking concerns, the new apartments will be located in one of the most walkable and transit-accessible areas of the city, mere blocks away from retail and the Metro. It is likely that few residents of the building will actually own a car. Regardless, the church will construct 93 underground parking spaces, 36 to replace those lost from the current lot plus 57 additional new spaces to comply with zoning requirements.

The most controversial issue may be a proposed rooftop common area. Residents are concerned about the noise a rooftop common might generate. This is a reasonable concern, but similar amenities have become a fairly common element of DC residential buildings, and there seems to be no particular reason why this specific rooftop deck should be disallowed.

Even so, both the developer and architect have said that they are willing to make changes to the rooftop area in order to abate as much noise as possible. The current design is partially enclosed, so perhaps there is opportunity to enclose more.

The full Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission has delayed a final vote on this proposal until after a special meeting of the Zoning, Preservation, and Development Committee to discuss the project. That meeting will take place at 7 pm on Tuesday, September 6, at the Hotel Dupont.

Correction: The article originally said the zoning provides for 65-foot buildings. However, while this is true for the basic zoning, the Inclusionary Zoning law increases the maximum height to 70 feet.


Improve campus life to fix Georgetown town-gown relations

The Office of Planning's recent recommendation to require Georgetown University to house 100 percent of undergraduates on campus would both severely damage Georgetown student life and fail to achieve the campus plan opponents' objectives. A better approach would be to make campus a more desirable place to be.

Photo by swe.anna on Flickr.

If Georgetown improved student gathering spaces, brought back Healy Pub, reduced restrictions for on-campus parties, added more housing and helped students avoid problematic landlords, many students would voluntarily move on campus and spend more social time there.

OP's report followed more than two years of negotiations over Georgetown's 2010 campus plan and changed the debate considerably. Recognizing that there is likely no room to build enough dormitories to house 100% of undergrads on Georgetown's campus, the OP report would mandate that the University reduce enrollment to equal the available housing.

In the Zoning Commission hearings, OP representatives also hinted that they would look favorably upon satellite housing and forced triples, like there are at American University. But satellite housing would only further fragment campus life.

Freshmen should not be forced to live in 170-square-feet triples while paying for some of the most expensive University housing in the country. Reducing enrollment by nearly 25 percent would represent a huge blow to the University's already constrained financial resources. These losses could lead to layoffs at the District's largest private employer.

Additionally, requiring all students to live on-campus would reduce the vibrancy and diversity of the already fairly staid surrounding community. Students live off-campus so that they can assert their independence and learn what it is like to live on their own. This arrangement, which furthers student ties to their community, should be encouraged, especially by a city hoping to expand its tax base.

Fortunately, the OP seems to recognize that their recommendations are not the only way forward. At the May 12 Zoning Commission hearing, OP representative Jennifer Steingasser repeatedly said that she was open to other solutions, so long as they brought students back on-campus and mitigated objectionable impacts in the community.

These solutions are possible. Today, Georgetown students spend time off-campus because they are frustrated by a lack of on-campus space that meets their needs. There's no real reason to live close to the center of student life, because there isn't one.

As long that is true, students will continue to socialize in the community and frequent bars on M Street, even if they are barred from living off-campus. A more holistic plan to remedying the objectionable impacts that OP sees is needed. Such a plan, which both recognizes the need to draw students back on-campus and their right to live off-campus, is laid out below.

Increase student space

For years, students have been advocating for more student space on campus. In 1999, a group of student leaders compiled the Report on Student Life, which recommended that the University reorganize Leavey Center and invest in a real student union. Plans for a New South Student Center were included in the 2000 Campus Plan but never came to fruition, and the proposal is again part of the 2010 Campus Plan.

Last year, the Student Space Working Group released a report that found that the same problems still exist a decade later. When surveyed, 64 percent of students said they desired more study space, 56 percent desired more social space, 49 percent desired more space for eating, 41 percent desired more meeting space, and 32 percent desired more student club space. The longer the students had been at Georgetown, and the more involved they were in extracurricular activities, the more frustrated they were with the space available.

What's more, when asked to identify the center of student life on campus, a plurality of students (33 percent) said it was Lauinger Library. This perception demonstrates a core problem. The spaces available do not meet the full variety of student needs, which means students need to use space in a way that conflicts with its intended purpose—for example, we socialize in an area where other people are trying to study—which renders the space ineffective.

As a result, a full 17 percent of those surveyed answered that there was no center of student life at all.

The closest thing we have to a student union—Sellinger Lounge in the Leavey Center—has not become the student-centered space it was envisioned as because of the presence of hotel guests and Georgetown Hospital staff.

If the campus were the real center of student life, more students would choose to live on-campus. The University can and should create spaces and opportunities for a healthy social scene to thrive.

Bring back Healy Pub

Many alumni still wistfully remember Healy Pub, the bar located in the basement of Georgetown's signature building. In 1987, responding to the higher drinking age, the University ordered the pub to shut down. Town-gown struggles began in full-force in the early 1990s, as student social life began to shift to private parties in Burleith and West Georgetown.

Now, a group of students are trying to bring the pub back. Since 2001, the student body has been paying into a Georgetown University Student Association Endowment Fund. The interest from the fund was supposed to finance student activities once the fund reached $10 million by 2011, but the University reneged on its promised $3 million contribution, so the fund has only reached $3.4 million. The student association leaders now consider the endowment a failure and plan to re-appropriate the money. We have $3.4 million to spend, and the Endowment Commission, identifying the same lack of student space we have, voted last month to put $3.23 million towards the pub.

The proposal is to model the pub after Queen's Head Pub at Harvard. On weekend nights, the area would function as a bar. Those under 21 would be allowed to enter, but they would not be allowed to drink. The rest of the time, the space would function as a lounge, where students could meet, socialize, work, eat snacks and reserve private rooms for meetings.

There are obvious obstacles. Once running, the pub will need an alcohol license, which obviously requires support from the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

Also, the Financial Aid Office and other administrators currently occupy Healy basement, so students need the University's assistance—and blessing—in relocating the people already there to space that will be opened up with the completion of the new science center.

Although the New South Student Center is a necessity and a part of the plan that students welcome, it is not enough. A student-designed, student-run, student-financed space in the heart of Georgetown's historic campus would go a very long way to creating a stronger sense of on-campus community and toward bringing socialization back on-campus.

Reduce on-campus party restrictions

During finals week in 2007, Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson surprised students with the announcement of a new alcohol policy. Administrators had decided to institute a one-keg limit, require host training for parties, require students to register parties by Thursday morning, limit the number of students, and increase sanctions for violations, with a third violation leading to suspension. At the time, the Georgetown Voice termed the changes "draconian."

The following September, the student association president led administrators on a tour through campus on a Saturday night. To their surprise, "There were about eight people standing around [on the rooftops] … and when they moved on to Henle, they could hear crickets in the courtyards." Before, it had been one of the biggest party weekends of the year.

Neighbors complained that they noticed an increase in off-campus parties and student noise. Students expressed fear of throwing parties on-campus, citing the new increased sanctions and party registration requirements.

Now, the dynamic has shifted somewhat. Many students express similar fears of 61-Ds for noise violations or Office of Off-Campus Student Life sanctions for off-campus parties.

Students know that despite their best efforts, parties often take on a life of their own, especially at the beginning of the year when groups of freshmen search high and low for a party to crash. Therefore, students decide to throw their parties on- or off- campus depending on where they perceive they'll attract the least trouble.

If we want students to socialize on-campus, we should consider this constant calculus. To an extent, we can shift the party culture by simply shifting the incentives. As we have seen in the last few years, it's not enough to increase the punishments for out-of-control off-campus parties. We need to also loosen the restrictions on on-campus parties.

Meet all undergrad demand for on-campus housing, starting with hotel and 1789 Block

The University maintains that it has provided housing for all undergraduates who have requested it. However, should the above measures be implemented, more upperclassmen will want to live on-campus so that they can be closer to the center to student activity. This is especially true if the expansion locations are well-integrated with existing student patterns.

Considering the existing campus, the two sites for additional housing that seem most sensible are the Leavey Center hotel and the block bounded by Prospect, N, 36th, and 37th, known informally as the "1789 block."

Although the Leavey Center has many flaws as a student center and should ultimately be replaced, it has recently become more student-friendly with the opening of the Hariri Business Building, which connects to Leavey. This trend will continue when the new science center opens in fall 2012 (plans call for the science center to connect to Leavey via open lounge spaces). The addition of student housing to Leavey will help ensure that foot traffic in the building returns to being predominantly student-driven, as opposed to hotel guest- or hospital staff-driven.

The "1789 block" which was once a part of the 2010 Campus Plan, would add up to 250 beds and 8,500 square feet of neighborhood servicing retail in the middle of a university-owned block right outside the university's gates. This project would be within a block of three other university dormitories and two university academic buildings. The "1789 block" would be closer to the front gates than the preexisting Nevils apartment complex and LXR dorm. This space is already a center of student activity, and additional commercial areas so close to campus would entice more students to the area.

The University estimates that these two projects could house approximately 500 undergraduates. This would bring the total number housed on-campus to 5,553, which represents about 92 percent of Georgetown's traditional undergraduate enrollment. This figure compares favorably to every university in Washington and is in line with schools like Harvard, Princeton and MIT, which OP praises in their report as models.

Rate My Landlord

Even if these measures are successful, approximately 8 percent of undergraduates will still have the ability to live off-campus.

However, those students who choose to move out of University housing often pay high rents for low-quality neighborhood housing. Slum landlords regularly fail to maintain their property or respect tenant rights. Students are blamed for the unsightly rental houses, when it is the landlord's responsibility to pay for upkeep.

Theoretically, the Georgetown Office of Off-Campus Life is there to "address the needs and concerns of off campus students." In practice, the office spends as least as much time serving its secondary function: acting "as a liaison between the university and our neighbors, encouraging dialogue about issues of mutual concern."

Lost in the shuffle are the students, who need a stronger advocate in their negotiations with landlords.

One service that would make a big impact would be a "rate my landlord"-type website, where students and other subletters could share information about rental rates, housing quality, upkeep and landlord responsiveness.

Students don't want to live under poor conditions. With more transparent information, students can demand better treatment and drive the slumlords out of business.

The takeaway

In the long run, holistic solutions that aim to improve campus and community life will be far more effective than draconian mandates, which will mire us in legal battles for years to come. We ask that the Zoning Commission, University, and community rethink their approach. The only solutions that can truly address persistent town-gown tensions will be the ones that also take student interests into account.


On-campus housing not the answer for Georgetown

In "GU takes student ghetto approach to housing undergrads," Ken Archer argues that Georgetown University has created a "student ghetto" by failing to guarantee undergraduates four years of on-campus housing. In response, he suggests four locations where the University should build "multi-use" facilities behind the gates.

Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

However, the University's very real financial and space constraints, historical context, and students' actual needs don't support this approach.

Historical context

It' s hard to substantiate the claim, echoed by many other neighbors, that the University has created a larger "student ghetto" than there was in the past.

Mr. Archer uses 1980 as a benchmark. But a 1979 Hoya student newspaper article reported that only 3,058 students were offered on-campus housing in 1980, or 58 percent of Georgetown's 5,293 undergraduates. Today, the University houses 84 percent of its undergraduates. In 1980, 2,235 students lived off-campus. Last semester 1,077 students lived off-campus, not including those studying abroad.*

Mr. Archer might still be right that something fundamentally changed in the 1980s. However, I think he misses the true cause. In 1986, the drinking age in D.C. rose from 18 to 21. As a result, the University implemented a harsher alcohol policy in 1987 that made drinking a punishable offense. The University also ordered the closure of the University Center Pub in Healy basement.

Students responded by moving their parties off-campus. The University instituted additional restrictions in 2007, introducing a one-keg limit and requiring that parties be registered beforehand. There aren't more students actually living off-campus now, but they might be louder.

Regardless of the cause, the 1990s were a highly contentious period. In 1996, neighbors were so bothered by the "student ghetto" that they tried to displace students by proposing a zoning overlay that would prevent more than three unrelated people from renting group homes together. The Zoning Commission rejected the proposal in 1998, ruling that it was discriminatory against students.

In response to the overlay, over 1,000 Georgetown students registered to vote in D.C. to elect two undergraduates to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Then-ANC Commissioner Westy Byrd distributed flyers warning students of the consequences of registering and was subsequently charged with voter intimidation (though the US Attorney's Office declined to prosecute).

Once the two students were elected, the losing ANC commissioners launched a lawsuit against them that dragged on until 2002. When I wrote a feature story about this time period, several people stressed to me how much better town-gown relations are now.

But opposition to the 2000 Campus Plan was just as fierce. Some of the points in the
Burleith Citizen Association's response letter could be used verbatim as arguments today. ("In fact, the University already has facilities on campus not presently used for undergraduate student housing that would be suitable for that purpose now or in the near future.")

At the time, the Board of Zoning and Adjustment sided with the neighborhood, refusing the University's request to increase its enrollment cap and requiring the University to publicly disclose information about student misconduct complaints. The University appealed, and in 2003, the DC Court of Appeals overturned the decision, declaring it was not the BZA's purview to rule on the University's disciplinary code.

The Southwest Quad also opened in fall 2003, bringing 780 students onto campus. There is a September 2003 newspaper hanging in our student newspaper office with the headline, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood: Have Georgetown's persistent town-gown battles finally come to an end?" The short answer: absolutely not.

It helps the neighbors' cause to pretend town-gown relations are worse than they've ever been, which is why some neighbors have been using this tactic for decades. The reality is, history is only repeating itself. In 1997, Mayor Marion Barry celebrated with the Georgetown ANC over their success in keeping a Papa John's from opening in the neighborhood. In 2010, Mayor Adrian Fenty held a press conference at the shuttering of our beloved Philly Pizza.

In 1979, Citizens Association of Georgetown Vice President Thomas Parrott told the Hoya he opposed the 1980 Campus Plan because it would extend campus boundaries to include Nevils Hall. In 2011, CAG President Jennifer Altemus reminisced about her time as an undergraduate living in Nevilswhile opposing the construction of University housing literally across the street.

Within historical context, it does not seem we are reaching a tipping point. Town-gown relations have ebbed and flowed for years. So we're finalizing the ten-year plan and residents say students are taking over the neighborhood? We're right on schedule.

"Multi-use" buildings are not the answer

Mr. Archer erroneously believes students are unhappy with the Southwest Quad and similar proposals because they are not "multi-use." Take it from a student: we couldn't care less.

Adding 800 beds on-campus would require building additional dorm-style accommodations, with double and triple rooms, common rooms and common bathrooms. Dorms are vastly inferior to off-campus options, which include kitchens, living rooms, single rooms, washing machines, dishwashers and all the furnishings of independent living.

We don't care if the dining hall is an elevator-ride away or a 10-minute walk. We want our own kitchens. We want area for entertaining. We want independence. We want apartments.

Mr. Archer's specific recommendations don't work for students. Considering Darnall's square-shaped floor plan, extending over Epicurean could only be marginally useful. But to any student, the proposal to expand Darnall would just be a sick joke.

Darnall is commonly considered the worst freshman dorm. Every floor houses about 50 people in 173-square-foot doubles. The beds are so close together that roommates can reach out and touch hands. For freshmen, this is fine. I myself survived Darnall Floor 1. But no upperclassmen would live there willingly. At New Student Orientation, ifsomeone says he was assigned to live in Darnall, the appropriate response is, "Oh... I'm so sorry."

The University actually provides townhouses and several nice apartment complexes: Village A, Village B, Nevils and Henle. But apartment complexes are more expensive than dorms, and they are not as space-efficient. In 1979 the Hoya reported that building Village A cost about $58,000 per unit—$169,180 in today's money. It's also harder to
build apartment complexes in the tiny slivers of space the architectural firm suggested.

Likewise, the University is already using the parking lot at the end of library walk to reroute the GUTS buses, as the neighbors have demanded. If the University could add apartments on top of O'Donovan Dining Hall or the new athletic facility, maybe it would attract some interested upperclassmen. But the architects did suggest adding on to Village C, so they likely already considered adding on to other buildings as well.

Considering that expensive apartment-style accommodations are the only options that will keep students on campus, when University officials insist there is no room to build on the traditional campus, they're not being wily. They're being realistic.

Going forward

The campus plan is a balance of sometimes competing interests: the University's desire to expand its offerings and bring in revenue, the neighbors' desire to preserve Georgetown's historic character and family-friendly atmosphere, and the students' desire for access to quality, affordable housing and state-of-the-art University facilities. This
balance requires compromise.

One seemingly obvious solution has since been taken off the table. I would like to see a reconsideration of the 1789 Block proposal, which could have housed 250 students in apartment-style accommodations. Neighbors considered this space "off-campus," even though it is University-owned and wedged between existing classroom buildings and University housing. After their ceaseless complaints, the University relented and struck the project from the plan.

In regards to noise, Mr. Archer says, "27% of student group homes have had run-ins with the police in the past year." Honestly, I'm surprised it' s not more. Neighbors urge each other to call the Metropolitan Police Department about noise before even talking to their student neighbors or calling the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program.

Admittedly, parties get out of control, and destructive behavior should not be tolerated. But calling the MPD about noise complaints takes resources away from real emergencies, like the too-frequent robberies, muggings and sexual assaults.

Neighbors are also quick to blame students for houses in disrepair. I have some Burleith horror stories of my own, as CAG likes to use as evidence for their cause. When I
subletted a room this summer, we had to exterminate bedbugs and pantry moths. The landlord left us to pay for the damages.

Students don't want to live in filth. But it's a seller's market. We don't have the resources or bargaining power to advocate for ourselves, and it's not a summer subletter's job to take on beautification projects. More of the condemnation needs to be directed at landlords who take advantage of students and fail to maintain their property.

Most importantly, neighbors should direct their frustrations at specific problem houses rather than write off students as a group. Responding to a student question at the Campus Plan meeting last Thursday, Ms. Altemus said, "We welcome students into the neighborhood if they obey the laws." If only she meant it.

Ms. Altemus and Mr. Archer do not decry our behavior—they decry our very presence. But under DC Code, it is illegal to discriminate against people based on their "matriculation status," which is why the Zoning Commission struck down the overlay preventing more than three unrelated people from living together. As a group, we have as much of a right to live here as anyone else.

Finally, DC Students Speak and other involved students are making good-faith efforts to engage residents about the campus plan. About 30 students showed up to last Thursday's meeting, and 784 people have signed a petition in support of the plan. My newspaper, the Georgetown Voice, has been attending these meetings from the very beginning. We want a stake in this community. Writing us off as a "student ghetto" doesn't even give us the chance.

* Since there has been so much debate about these numbers, I'll explain my methodology. The 1979 Hoya article said that 1,558 students won the housing lottery, 660 lost and were then "forced to look for off-campus housing," and 1,500 spaces were reserved for freshmen and students with health problems or special circumstances.

A History of Georgetown University, Volume 3 Appendix A, says for academic year 1980-81, the University enrolled 2,091 college students, 462 nursing students, 1,201 school of foreign service students and 838 business students, adding to Mr. Archer' s total of 4,592. However, he forgets to count the School of Languages and Linguistics, which merged with Georgetown College in 1995 and enrolled 701 students in 1980-81.

This brings us to a total of 5,293. If Georgetown had 5,293 undergraduates and housed 3,058, then 2,235 lived off-campus, though not all requested housing.

I have not yet found good statistics about how many students studied abroad during this time. However, considering that study abroad has gotten immensely popular in recent years—according to the Office of International Programs, 57 percent of current students study abroad at some point—I think it's most accurate to exclude students who are studying abroad from the current off-campus count.

The 2010 Campus Plan shows specific enrollment figures for students on the main campus dating back to 2006. There are fewer students on the main campus in the spring because more students study abroad that semester, so under the 2000 Campus Plan, Georgetown reported the enrollment as an average of the two semesters.

I have chosen the most recent data available, fall 2010 alone, when there were 6,130 undergraduates enrolled at the main campus. The University provides 5,053 beds, so assuming every bed was filled last semester, 1,077 students lived off-campus.

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