University fails to meet allotted on-campus housing requirement, prompting increased scrutiny from ANC

‘The campus plan is very specific in some areas, but it also can’t happen again’

University fails to meet allotted on-campus housing requirement, prompting increased scrutiny from ANC

After American University failed to guarantee on-campus housing for enough students, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D issued a resolution Wednesday requiring the University to provide monthly updates on student housing requirements beginning in late January.

The 2011 and 2021 campus plans, which were created by AU and approved by the ANC, require the University to provide housing for at least 67 percent of undergraduates, but AU underestimated the number of students who would actually enroll at the University after being admitted, meaning about 300 students didn’t have guaranteed access to on-campus housing.

The University did not inform the ANC or the D.C. Zoning Commission of its noncompliance until this week, as discussed during the ANC 3D’s Dec. 8 meeting.

Elizabeth Deal, the University’s assistant vice president for community and internal communication, told The Eagle in an email that housing data was not available until Dec. 1. According to Deal, this is typical because the annual data is not finalized until late November after the deadline to unenroll and make other changes that affect the final enrollment count.

“Once the data was available, we reported to the Neighborhood Partnership and the [Community Liaison Commission], which are additional key representatives of the community, as we do every December,” Deal said. “The ANC recognized that this unique year created unique challenges that we continue to address.”

Deal said that there is no specific requirement to inform the ANC of campus data.

The Zoning Commission is involved with the University’s campus plan to help prevent an excess spillover of students into the surrounding neighborhoods, which could limit housing options for D.C. residents not affiliated with the AU community.

Even if the over-enrolled students did not necessarily want to live in on-campus residences, space issues could pose a problem in the future if more students choose to live on campus, ANC 3D Commissioner and AU senior Christian Damiana said. He said he worries that students who require affordable housing on campus may not be able to access it in the future.

“Sometimes things happen and if they had come to us earlier, it could have been possible to mitigate those impacts and collaboratively find a way to make sure it wasn’t an issue,” Damiana said. “But instead, they just kept it a secret.”

Passed unanimously after little discussion, the ANC’s resolution also requires that the University share its written plans regarding compliance with the 67 percent rule for the spring and fall 2022 semesters with the ANC in preparation for its Jan. 5 meeting. The ANC is also asking University officials to meet with the neighborhood commission at that time to discuss these plans and other pandemic-related housing and enrollment issues. 

In accordance with the city’s conflict of interest laws, Damiana abstained from voting on the resolution. He also said that the monthly check on the University’s housing data can help keep them in compliance with its requirements.

“Sometimes, housing really can change from month to month, with students coming back from study abroad and things like that,” Damiana said. “It is obviously a volatile situation with the pandemic and I think we’re going to be running up right against that 67 percent number.”

Damiana is concerned that the University’s failure to alert the ANC of their over admittance could diminish the ANC’s credibility with the Zoning Commission. When approving the 2021 campus plan in July, the ANC told the Zoning Commission that the University was trustworthy and, as Damiana paraphrased, “did not need to be micromanaged.”

“It turned out that maybe they needed to be managed a little bit more than we thought,” Damiana said.

The ANC does not hold any power to penalize the University for noncompliance, but Damiana said he expects AU to provide those monthly updates in accordance with the resolution to remain in good standing with the ANC. 

The ANC is using this resolution as an opportunity to be firm with the University and to act in the best interest of students and members of the surrounding neighborhood, Damiana said.

“I don’t think this is something that the University necessarily deserves to be completely admonished for,” Damiana said. “Mistakes happen. The campus plan is very specific in some areas, but it also can’t happen again. We’re going to take action in the future to stop it.”

ssolano@theeagleonline.com 

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