by Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
The University of the District of Columbia is preparing to lease up to 15 apartment units for its students in a building across Connecticut Avenue from its Van Ness campus.
A committee of the school’s board of trustees voted Thursday [August 15] to authorize the bulk lease in The Consulate, 2950 Van Ness St., and the full board is expected to ratify the move Sept. 10. The university already leases 31 units in the Van Ness South building, across Van Ness Street from The Consulate.
Master leasing is part of the school’s effort to make its campus more desirable, with student housing being one of the key focuses of a 10-year campus plan the Zoning Commission approved in 2011. The commission granted the school authority to build an on-campus dormitory and lease up to 100 units in total in the area, though it is prohibited from expanding further within Van Ness South.
The university recently surveyed its students and found that about 250 to 300 are seeking housing near the campus, located at Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street, according to university spokesperson Michael Rogers.
“Action by the Board of Trustees Executive Committee is needed to approve leasing of additional units to accommodate students who have expressed an immediate need and desire to live in close proximity to our campus,” he wrote in an email. “In an effort to accommodate our students, the University’s housing strategy involves a more robust housing referral program, including off-campus housing under master lease arrangements.”
No additional master leases are planned “at this time,” according to Rogers, but such arrangements may be less of an interim measure than originally envisioned. Plans for the dorm are behind schedule, and Rogers said “the question of on campus housing is a matter to be determined by the Board of Trustees.”
The expansion of master leasing comes while the Forest Hills/Van Ness advisory neighborhood commission has filed a complaint that the university is out of compliance with numerous provisions of its campus plan. Several of the commission’s concerns regard student housing.
The commission says that despite requirements to the contrary, the school did not provide details of its existing off-campus housing stock; amend its student code of conduct to include off-campus behavior; establish a “good neighbor” education program for off-campus students; establish an outreach program with management companies and tenant associations in buildings where students are living; or secure referrals from the Metropolitan Police Department regarding student conduct.
“No question about it — there’s noncompliance,” Rogers, the university spokesperson, said in an interview last month. “All of this predated me and the current president, so we’re trying to figure out who’s responsible for what and what we promised so we can move forward. There’s a general understanding that where there’s noncompliance we need to correct it.”
Regarding The Consulate, Rogers wrote that the university teaches its students about appropriate off-campus behavior and will have resident advisers on-site.
“To insure success of our program and foster positive community relations, the University’s Office of Residence Life addresses ‘good neighbor’ issues with residential students through orientation on an ongoing basis,” he wrote.
But the resident advisers haven’t always satisfied non-university residents. Complaints from Van Ness South tenants during the campus plan process are the main reason behind today’s limits on off-campus leasing. Residents complained about noise, overcrowded units, rowdiness in the building’s common space, and a smell of marijuana they attributed to the students.
Those problems were there, the residents said, despite the presence of one on-site resident adviser for every 25 students — a ratio that the university’s Valerie Epps described in a 2011 community meeting as “like kindergarten supervision.”
Rogers didn’t say how many students would live in the university-leased apartments at The Consulate, saying only that “the number of students housed will be compliant with all rules and regulations governing the units.”
Under the terms of the campus plan, the university is required to provide 60 days’ notice to the management company and tenants association at any apartment building in which it will master-lease students. But because bulk leasing was approved as part of the campus plan, no further community input is needed for The Consulate.
Neighborhood commission chair Adam Tope said he’s pleased the university took the extra step of notifying his commission and, via social media, the general public.
Reprinted, with permission, from the August 21, 2013 edition of The Northwest Current.