‘Building’ a consensus on campus housing

Two months ago, Linda Brown, coordinator of Housing Services, indicated to sophomores living in Mission Park that their common rooms would be needed to house students returning from abroad. Her e-mail elicited a strong negative reaction from both campus leaders and angry Mission residents. Ultimately, the College found a solution and did not need the Mission rooms, but the situation illustrates a problem that may only get worse in years to come.

With a larger-than-expected group of 541 students enrolled in the class of 2006, an increasingly volatile international political climate that could affect the number of students studying abroad and less students living off-campus, the College must seriously examine the housing situation on campus if it seeks to maintain the high standard students have come to expect. A long-term plan for housing returning students with strangers in half-filled doubles is infeasible.

Part of the problem is that upperclassmen often pick into doubles alone, expecting the other bed to remain empty for the year as returning students find available singles or live with friends. Unfortunately, due to the number of students on campus now, this dream can no longer be a guarantee, nor should it have ever been allowed in the first place.

As some administrators have already suggested, rules must be implemented to stop upperclassmen who effectively turn doubles into singles, either through intimidation of underclassmen at the housing draw, or through the unwillingness of returning juniors to face an unfriendly roommate. Not only does the practice essentially remove beds from the available pool, but it also runs counter to the College and the CUL’s desire to increase interaction among classes and social groups. Allowing juniors and sophomores the opportunity to pick into doubles in row houses automatically increases the diversity of the house.

The solution, which should be implemented immediately, is to require students to pick into doubles with a roommate, thereby utilizing available beds more efficiently and creating fewer potential roommate conflicts. Unfortunately, this will also mean lower quality housing for seniors as row-house doubles turn into underclass housing.

The experience of last November, however, shows that the College currently has too small a margin of error when it comes to housing. It is clearly time to explore options for giving the Housing Office more beds to allocate. One option that has been floated is identifying some relatively large singles that can be converted into doubles during future housing crunches. While this may be necessary as a short-term safety net, the College should not rely on this as a long-term answer.

Instead, the College should attempt to expand its current co-op options. Already, demand for co-ops greatly exceeds supply – only about one-in-three seniors entering the co-op draw is able to live in one. Increasing the supply of co-ops would have two beneficial effects.

First, it would allow the administration greater flexibility in dealing with returning students and their housing needs. Second, it would benefit seniors, who would have more co-ops available to them; further, higher quality housing would also trickle down to the other classes.

Precisely how to find more co-op housing is an issue that will need to be explored in greater detail. There are two specific options we believe the College could examine.

First, the feasibility of converting faculty office houses such as Seeley, Fernald and Harper into co-op housing should be explored. In the future, the completion of the Stetson-Sawyer renovations will provide office space for the professors currently in those houses. Centralizing faculty offices in Stetson will free up these buildings, which would be ideal co-ops.

The second option is to build a co-op complex along the driveway leading to Tyler and Tyler Annex. While the obvious benefit of this construction is an increase in the supply of co-ops, developing the area around Tyler would make the northwest corner of campus a more attractive social space for students. Tyler is a beautiful house but is so secluded from the rest of campus that its social spaces are seldom utilized. Co-ops located near Tyler would greatly increase the desirability of the entire complex.

The emergence of a problem like the housing crunch can often be fixed with a band-aid solution, such as letting juniors live off-campus or in faculty apartments. We recognize that the ideas presented here are ambitious, but they are a product of the kind of creative thinking in which the College must partake if it is tocreate feasible long-term housing solutions.

Whether the final solution is to build more co-op housing or simply to develop a more effective method of ensuring that each freshman class is not overenrolled, the issue must be addressed and a sustainable solution must be found and implemented.