Editorial: The deteriorating state of CWRU residential housing: An urgent call for action


Rachel Alexander/The Observer

Maintenance issues are constant in CWRU resident halls. In a scenario that has become too normal, a kitchen drawer recently filled with dirty sink water as a result of a broken sink pipe in a Village House 2 suite (pictured above).

Editorial Board

Residential housing at Case Western Reserve University has always been less than ideal, with CWRU students often having maintenance problems in their aging living spaces. However, as the years have gone on, it seems like these problems have only worsened. Maintenance requests that were previously completed within a day are now taking nearly a week to fulfill despite their urgent nature.

As of recently, these recurring issues are starting to appear in older residential houses, particularly those on Southside. The Delta Gamma and Tri Sigma sorority houses have been experiencing problems with sewage floods in their basements and common areas. Maintenance has been inadequate, often taking several days to send the appropriate employees and tools to fix the issue. In the meantime, residents are unable to use their kitchen for fear of inhaling sewage fumes and are left with no choice but to throw out food exposed to the sewage in their pantries. On top of this, communication from the Office of Facilities Services was paltry, only communicating a timeline after residents pressed the employees for further information. Needless to say, updates on dangerous health hazards like sewage gas exposure in a residence hall should be clearly communicated to everyone living there.

Although we wish we could say these larger issues are limited to the older, more outdated residence halls, even the newer ones have their fair share of problems. Residents in The Village at 115th have also experienced issues with lack of communication from CWRU. Last year, Village Houses 5, 6 and 7 had their building-controlled heat turned on at the end of April for several days; the weather consisted of temperatures in the 80s, making the buildings broiling to the point of uninhabitability. However, it took several days before maintenance was able to turn it off and residents were given little to no information regarding the issue. More recently, the kitchen of an apartment on the first floor of Village House 2 flooded when a pipe could not be repaired. CWRU maintenance employees worked on the clogged sink for three days to no avail. Even though residents were informed that the issue was fixed, their kitchen sink filled up with dirty water and flooded the kitchen the next morning. The issue was finally solved by outside contractors after considerable time had passed. 

And of course, there are the smaller things that have taken ages to fix. Those who are living in the South Residential Village (SRV), specifically the “Bottom of the Hill” residences, have reported that two out of their three washers have not been working for months. Furthermore, these buildings have also had consistent issues with keycard access this past year with no permanent solution in sight. Problems are not exclusive to SRV—in Storrs Residence Hall the roof of a common room collapsed, dripping for almost a month before CWRU maintenance repaired damages. 

Slow repairs seems to be the result of multiple operational errors at CWRU. Primarily, CWRU maintenance appears to be massively understaffed. In fall 2022, for all the Property Management Apartments—which includes 1680, 1719, 1727, The Noble and Twin Gables—there were an estimated total of three maintenance employees for the entire complex, which is evidently not enough. 

Although maintenance is a subsidiary of the Office of Facilities Services, they appear to be very independent from them and the Office of University Housing, illustrated by the lack of clear communication across the board. 

In the end, the larger problem is the deteriorating buildings on campus. It seems it is not in the administration’s best interest to fix them due to the cost and commitments to other current university priorities, such as new residence halls and a new research building. The primary Northside and Southside residences were erected several decades ago and were compliant with Ohio building codes at the time of their installation. This means that CWRU does not have to update them unless their conditions are deemed “dangerous to life, health or safety.” Under Ohio building codes, any repair that is considered a substantial improvement means that the building will have to be updated to comply with current building codes, regardless of when the structure was built. Any repairs are considered substantial if they exceed 50% of the market value of the building before the repairs. If CWRU decides to fix a portion of water pipes in a building—which would be classified as a substantial project—the entire water pipe system would have to be updated to comply with current building codes.

Clearly, maintenance isn’t the problem here: It’s the deteriorating infrastructure of our existing housing that causes a need for increased maintenance requests. Until we can get to the root of these problems with outside contractors instead of barely fixing them at a surface level, these problems will only worsen until we are forced to start at square one. The university will once again have to scramble to find hundreds of students adequate housing. 

In his address to USG two weeks ago, President Kaler claimed that students did not need to be concerned about the plan to increase the student population due to it being a proportionately small increase. Originally, the new residence halls in SRV were meant to replace the old, decaying buildings but with President Kaler’s arrival and his mandate to increase the student population, all buildings will be used for the foreseeable future to accommodate this growth. What Kaler ignores is the reality that housing is already inadequate for the current student population and simply adding more will not help. The university’s plan to increase the student body without dealing with the preexisting problems first shows a complete lack of understanding of the student body’s needs.

President Kaler described many of the problems with first-year student housing as intentional choices meant to encourage students to leave their rooms. While someone not living in student housing might be able to look at it as a choice, for students who must live in it for two years it is not a choice and rather housing conditions they must accept. Perhaps if President Kaler had to live in student housing for a week, CWRU wouldn’t be so dismissive of the justified housing complaints students have.