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Lottery system eases Dartmouth’s fall housing crunch

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/25/2021 10:02:26 PM
Modified: 6/25/2021 10:02:36 PM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College’s fall waitlist for undergraduate housing has returned to normal size, following a lottery in which the college offered up $1 million total to encourage as many as 200 students to find off-campus alternatives, according to the provost.

Because about 120 students took the college up on its offer of $5,000 each to agree to find housing elsewhere, the current waitlist of 128 students is “firmly within the range of what we would normally see at this time of year,” Provost Joseph Helble said during a webcast “community conversation” on Wednesday.

As a result, it’s possible that many, if not all, the students who remain on the waiting list will be able to find on-campus housing as students’ fall plans shift over the course of the summer, he said, adding that he was not offering “a promise or a guarantee.”

The college announced the lottery last week in an effort to reduce demand for on-campus housing that had swelled due to students being eager to get back to campus for what officials have said will be a normal, in-person fall term. The increase is primarily driven by the return of students who were away from campus during the COVID-19 pandemic and by students not yet being able to study abroad as they would in non-pandemic times, Helble said.

Students and others, however, have said that part of the problem is that the college hasn’t added to its on-campus housing stock since 2006. Some also say that failing to provide housing to all students who want it may endanger their mental health.

The college, which has roughly 4,400 undergraduates, has about 3,500 on-campus beds to accommodate them, said Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence. In preparation for this fall, the college was able to add some beds by shifting larger doubles to triples and converting lounges to student rooms where possible, but it does not have other options to increase the number of beds available, said Mike Wooten, associate dean of residential life, in an email last week to students on the school’s housing waitlist.

A plan to construct a new 350-bed residence hall at the intersection of Crosby and East Wheelock streets for undergraduate housing while existing residence halls are renovated was put on hold last year amid the pandemic. At the same time, Lebanon officials last year approved Dartmouth’s plans for a 309-unit apartment complex for graduate students on Mount Support Road off Route 120.

Anders Knospe, a member of the class of 2023, said that before he got off the college’s housing waitlist recently he was considering getting a moped to shorten what he anticipated was going to be at least a 20-minute walk to campus from the nearest apartment he could find. The apartments he had come across ranged in price from $1,200 to $1,500 per month and he likely would have had to pay for some months outside of the college’s academic calendar.

That was “very much not what I wanted to do,” said Knospe, who arrived in Hanover earlier this week for the beginning of summer term. There’s “nothing I want more than to just be back on campus.”

Dartmouth alumna Amy Lord, parent of a rising junior who is among the 128 students remaining on the college’s waitlist, said she feels that the college ought to make it a priority to provide housing to any student who wants it in the fall, at least in part to shore up students’ mental health.

“In Dartmouth’s case to have lost members of the community so tragically just really raises the stakes here,” Lord said, referring to the four student deaths this past academic year, including at least two to suicide. It “makes this so much more important to make sure that any student that wants to be on campus has that opportunity to get back to their community.”

Lord said she thought the college ought to show more “urgency” in ensuring that students have housing this fall. She suggested using rooms at the college’s Hanover Inn as a backup option.

“A lot of other colleges are using hotels,” she said.

The Upper Valley doesn’t have as many hotels as more urban locations and, as COVID-19 restrictions have eased, the hotels there are have begun booking into next year, said Lawrence, the Dartmouth spokeswoman.

College officials “were unable to identify an opportunity to house students using hotel inventory,” she said, adding that they also ruled out establishing modular housing in such a tight timeframe ahead of fall term.

The college’s housing issues come amid a broader housing crunch across the Upper Valley, said Andrew Winter, the executive director of the White River Junction-based nonprofit Twin Pines Housing. “This year seems particularly tight,” Winter said of the region’s rental market. Adding “a couple hundred students into the equation makes a difficult situation even more difficult,” he said.

He said he’s heard from local landlords that students have on occasion ended up in bidding wars over apartments within walking distance to campus, he said. He expects that the effect of the crunch will be to push some graduate students, who are more likely to have cars, to housing farther from campus, he said.

Broadly, part of the solution will be to create more housing units, Winter said, noting that the college’s planned apartments on Mount Support Road “will help alleviate some of the pressure.”

During Wednesday’s community conversation with Helble, Liz Lempres, incoming chairwoman of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, said that housing is at the top of the board’s list of infrastructure priorities.

“When I was at Dartmouth, it was a housing issue and there were substandard rooms and we probably didn’t have enough, and that’s only accelerated,” said Lempres, a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1983, Thayer ‘84.

The college plans “an extraordinary distribution of our endowment for the next 10ish years to make sure that there is funding available and specifically earmarked for infrastructure,” she said.

In addition, the board at its June meeting approved schematic designs on a dorm renovation project at East Wheelock, which is intended to both improve dorms as well as to create “incremental capacity,” Lempres said.

The college’s plans to address housing “won’t affect housing needs this fall,” said Lawrence, the college spokeswoman, but the college does expect to begin construction projects aimed at improving the student living experience and increasing on-campus housing capacity in the next 18 months.

The board and the college’s senior leaders are developing a long-term plan that “starts to get our arms around what we need in terms of number of beds, because this is not just an undergraduate problem,” Lempres said. “We’re taking a holistic approach to figure out what are some of the things we can do and what are some of the creative solutions that we can bring to bear to make the improvements faster.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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