Housing strategies lack student focus

Housing for the 2015-2016 school year is something that most students have been thinking about in recent weeks. Greek students have been getting emails about chapter housing, and those upperclassmen whose financial situations allow have been looking into off-campus rates. Pretty much every other student who isn’t picking out the perfect shoes to wear with a graduation robe has started to consider the recently released housing application.

This consideration has been a long way from stress-free. Student complaints abound, and rightly so. When this housing season began, the university’s approach was hardly student-centered, as it upped prices across the board and cut the relatively affordable options. In addition to these financial obstacles, the university has also delayed the release of official price lists, any solid plans for gender inclusion and floor plans for the new upperclassmen building being built. Though since the tumultuous beginning the situation has been somewhat improved, our housing woes are far from over.

One major complaint on the mind of any student who has had to look at their bank balance in recent days was the pricing for next year’s housing. On the tables sent out to students via email, there were no “affordable” options left for upperclassmen: The Triangle’s rates had been raised to be comparable with those of The Village, and the Property Management apartments were removed from the list of options entirely.

On the bright side, the rate schedule on Case Western Reserve University Housing’s website features, as of this issue’s layout, a large red disclaimer box announcing, “The 2015-2016 room and board rates are preliminary until approved by the Board of Trustees.” While this may seem like the bright side of a can of black paint, it is actually a positive.

Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President Taylor Gladys brought up student housing concerns in a presentation to the Board of Trustees last week. Following that, and not to mention student uproar and hard work by the Residence Hall Association (RHA), the board decided to postpone its final vote on housing rates in order to work back in 80 spots in the Property Management apartments—reinstating the most affordable option.

Another positive change came from junior m. c. Perrin’s persistent lobbying. They gathered support for a gender-inclusive housing (GIH) option on Facebook and through a Google form, and within less than a week, Deputy Provost Dr. Lynn Singer noted the Office of Student Affairs was working on a potential plan for gender inclusive housing.

As a counterpoint to all of this good news, though, Residence Life still has not released floor plans or even room dimensions for the new building being constructed next year. Students are expected to be choosing rooms and filling out their housing applications, theoretically including applications to live in the new hall. Not only has Residence Life still not released this information; they have also ignored requests for comment on it.

So much for educated choices and serving students.

In addition to the quiet surrounding the new residence hall, there is still the disquieting fact that CWRU financially penalizes students who move off campus. Under the current financial aid policy, CWRU will reduce students’ need-based aid by up to $11,820 per year for letting their rent and grocery money go into the surrounding community rather than CWRU itself.

While this policy will remain in place at least for the coming semester, it will be one of the focuses, along with pricing strategy and the lottery system, of a USG/RHA task force being put together by Vice President of Student Affairs Lou Stark. There is, then, at least some hope for a more just system in future.

Housing remains far from perfect, and most students will still begin next year paying a few thousand dollars over the prices that this year led CWRU to a top ranking as Ohio’s most expensive college residential program. That students have begun proactively voicing their concerns is a positive change, and Residence Life seems to be moving in a more student-focused direction. However, it is important to not get mired in a few positives and let these color your glasses entirely rose.

These changes are still late, and really beg the question, who are university officials tied to housing serving? Why did it take student outrage for conversations to start happening?

Correction:  As previously, erroneously stated, Deputy Provost Dr. Lynn Singer did not release a statement that the university will offer GIH for next year’s fall semester. She noted that the Office of Student Affairs is currently working on a potential plan for GIH for next year. The Observer apologizes for the error, and the story has been updated to reflect this change. 

Additionally, the editorial has since been updated to note that 80 spots will be available in the PMAs next year. This was announced via email by the Office of Residence Life and Services a day after the editorial was written. The Observer made several attempts to contact representatives from the Office of Residence Life and Services, which were not returned. The formerly listed figure of 61 spots being made available in the PMAs was the number given to Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Gladys in a meeting with Provost Bud Baeslack. We appreciate the work both USG and RHA had on making this change and for assistance in providing us needed information.