Affordable housing hard to come by on and off campus

With the cost of tuition and school fees around $50,000, it’s no secret that AU is an expensive university. In 2011, Business Insider ranked AU the second costliest university in the country even after factoring in financial aid. For many students this is the source of at least some anxiety during their time here.

A common way AU students reduce these higher education costs is by moving off campus after freshman year. Sharing a relatively small room in McDowell Hall costs nearly $9,500 per year or $1,100 per month. You pay a premium to be able roll out of bed 10 minutes before your first class.

Moving off campus is a big deal, but rent prices at the Berkshire, Greenbriar and Avalon apartment complexes diminish that deal. Two-bedroom apartments at the Berks start at $3,000 per month and the Avalon prices are even higher. Even with four people splitting those costs, they don’t offer that much respite for families already shouldering the burden of paying tuition.

The larger issue here is the housing crisis in D.C. Behind San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and Boston, D.C. is the fifth most expensive metro area in the country, according to the National Association of Realtors. Housing costs in the area have grown 69 percent while median income has risen just 44 percent. A staggering 50 percent of all renters are classified by housing researchers as “housing cost burdened,” meaning a household spends 30 percent or more of income on rent. That number is 83 percent for those with incomes below $50,000.

Most students are somewhat protected from these trends, primarily because they are not financially independent. But high costs of living have practical consequences for everyone.

Unaffordable housing discourages students from remaining around campus outside of the academic year, or from remaining nearby after they graduate. There’s been a lot of discussion the lack of school spirit at AU, much of it revolving around athletics. But doesn’t the lack of affordable housing also factor in, exacerbating the already difficult task of building a community when most students aren’t from around the area to begin with?

AU administrators should explore the feasibility of freezing or reducing room and board costs for students during the academic year and throughout the summer. This would at least demonstrate that the school takes this problem seriously. More broadly, all members of the campus community should support efforts to build more affordable, below market-rate housing units. Students could benefit if regional prices drop or grow more slowly.

To be fair, this problem is not unique to D.C. It affects most large urban areas and relates to broader, structural societal issues. Easy, all-encompassing answers are elusive. But the crisis isn’t going away, and students are hurting because of it.

Devin Mitchell is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs.

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