A crisis among the seniors

Andrew Breland

In late March, Case Western Reserve University announced the construction of a new upperclassmen residence hall on East 115 St. The building, actually one of the more aesthetically pleasing buildings on our majority-bland campus, is scheduled to open in Fall 2015. That schedule will more than likely be pushed back at the expense of the bourgeoning classes at CWRU. But otherwise, it seems, housing is not a major issue on our campus.

But oh, it is.

CWRU has housing for approximately 3,400 – 3,700 students, depending on which statistics one uses. That number leaves almost 1,000 students without campus housing. Now, it is true that some of those students will inevitably move off campus on their own. University Circle is stocked full of apartments with students at the medical, law and other graduate schools already requiring a place to live during the academic year. However, the issue is not the ubiquity of housing in the area, but instead the crisis of housing occurring on our campus.

In the same announcement about the construction of our new residence hall, the university happily pointed out that the last housing project was completed in 2005, with the construction of the Village at 115. According to the university’s registrar’s office, during the first year the Village was open, the student body at CWRU was 3,700 students. Notice how the number of students matched the amount of housing the university can provide.

Since then, the undergraduate student body has grown more than 20 percent; this year, full-time undergraduate enrollment sat at 4,386 students. In the meantime, total housing has not increased, leading to massive numbers of students being forced into the rental market.

In the meantime, demand on the rental market in the area has grown as well. The number of graduate and professional students at CWRU has grown from just under 3,800 students in 2005 to 4,700 this year. This increase has put additional strain on the regional housing market. Nationally, rental payments increased four percent last year, and are expected to do the same this year. Since 2005, rent has gone up nearly 20 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Combining the nationwide increase in rents with the increased regional demand for housing, it’s no surprise that new apartment complexes have emerged in Uptown and just off campus behind Cleveland Institute of Music and University Hospitals.

However, these facts belie a larger issue that plagues the student body. Even while new housing is constructed throughout the area, prices remain prohibitive to student renters.

Uptown apartments start at $1,200 per month for a single-bedroom. Other new apartment complexes are not far off that, costing around $950 per month. And on-campus housing, when calculated in per month rates, equals about $1,100 per month. Off campus expenses for utilities and furnishings leads these seemingly lower prices to match or exceed on campus prices.

The lack of housing options on and off campus, price prohibitiveness for off-campus housing and a seeming lack of concern on the part of the university creates the aforementioned crisis.

But some will argue that the university’s efforts to build a new residence hall are indicative that they are engaged in helping students. This is patently false. In the eight years that Case Western has had a housing deficit (more students than there is housing) the university has spent substantial funds overhauling Leutner, constructing a performing arts venue in a renovated synagogue, building a field house to complete the oval around our football field and erecting a monstrosity of a university center, the future of which is questionable and unsatisfying to date. Each of these projects could have been replaced by additional housing construction. It would have been more worthwhile to the student body.

But instead we did not. And next year, more than 1,000 undergraduates will be forced off campus. I will unhappily be one of them.

Personally, I always wondered if I would have to move away. But every time, I remember the words of my tour guide, echoed by admissions counselors, that “if you wanted housing you would always get it.” Hell, when I was a tour guide, I told students the same thing. That’s the naiveté with which we attract our students. Maybe in the future that statement will again be true. But I can already give you examples of students to which that statement, that broken promise, is a sham.

When the university announced the construction of a new residence hall, to be completed a wonderful year after I graduate, Director of Residence Life, Janice Gerda was quoted saying, “On-campus housing options for upperclass students are important. Sure, there are time and convenience considerations, but it’s also important for students to remain connected to friends and the fabric of the university community throughout the undergraduate experience.”

While that quote seems to suggest that Gerda and her office care about keeping everyone connected, their inability to help students and lack of haste in constructing new housing illustrate that is completely untrue. As an incoming senior there is nothing I wanted more than to have a guaranteed private place on campus to which I could go home every night; somewhere so that I could walk from the library at 3:00 a.m., and would not feel unsafe in my journey home. Thanks to Housing’s inabilities that is now impossible.

Because of this conflict, I will never again recommend this school to a prospective student. Because of this, I will never speak fondly of our university to potential donors. Because of this, I will never give a cent in donation to this university. Speaking to other students, I am not alone.

Forgetting and forsaking graduates is one thing, but forgetting and forsaking your students is another issue entirely. I look forward to the university response to this piece. And I welcome their attempts to console the already inconsolable.

Andrew Breland is a double major in political science and English, vice president of the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity and former chair of the Case Western Reserve Constitution Day Committee.