Parents frustrated with fall housing shortage seek alternatives

Some parents have proposed modular housing as a solution for students still on the housing waitlist.

by Ben Korkowski | 8/13/21 5:15am

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Parent Jim Klaas received mockups of potential temporary housing from Stallion Rents. 

Source: Courtesy of Jim Klaas

With Dartmouth preparing for a full reopening for the fall term, the demand for on-campus housing has outstripped supply, resulting in a housing shortage that has left dozens of students without a place to live come September. Though the College did offer financial incentives and work to expand the housing supply in other ways, a perceived lack of sufficient action has left some parents of students on the housing waitlist dissatisfied and searching for alternatives. 

During the July 21 Community Conversations livestream, interim provost David Kotz said that in response to the current shortage of beds, the College has begun to convert some double rooms into triples and some common areas into dorm rooms. These changes are on top of the $5,000 lottery that was used to cut the waitlist down earlier in the summer. He also stated that planning is “underway” for a new undergraduate residence hall that is targeted to open in 2023.  

Jim Klaas, a parent of a member of the Class of 2023 who currently remains on the waitlist, was disappointed with College’s response. 

“I wasn’t surprised by the shortage, but I was surprised by the perceived limited options that Dartmouth was offering the students that were not offered on-campus housing,” Klaas said. “It was easy to predict that all students would want to be on campus for the fall term this year, and with study abroad and internships largely shut down, there was going to be a housing crunch.”

Elinor Spokes, a parent of a member of the Class of 2022 who forfeited their spot on the waitlist and found off-campus housing, said she was “disappointed and disgruntled that the College was putting students in such a difficult situation.” 

“It seemed like it was very apparent that there was going to be tremendous demand for housing this fall, given that so many students spent so much time away from campus last year due to the pandemic,” Spokes said. 

Since the College announced the housing shortage for the fall, a group of parents with students in a similar situation to Spokes’ and Klaas’ children have been meeting regularly over Zoom, according to Spokes. 

“There were a number of us on numerous Zoom calls together brainstorming ideas to present to the administration, because it didn’t seem to us [that] the administration or anyone who was responsible for housing was really thinking out of the box,” she said. 

During these discussions, both Spokes and Amy Lord ’88, a parent of a member of the Class of 2023, noted that peer universities like Colby College had repurposed their college-owned hotels for student use to address similar deficits in the number of available beds. The majority of the group’s ideas were dismissed by the College, Spokes said.

“While Dartmouth is not unique in having a housing crisis, Dartmouth seems to be unique in that they seem to be saying no to every alternative that some very creative parents have spent time producing,” she added. 

In response to the housing crisis, some of the parents in the group have taken matters into their own hands by researching other housing options. 

Klaas contacted multiple modular housing companies, including Vesta Modular and Stallion Rents, to inquire about what the process and costs would be for the College to use their services to avert the current housing shortage. 

“When you look at the costs involved in renting the units, they are extremely economical,” Klaas said. “Most of the costs are bringing in and removing the units. Once on site, they are inexpensive to maintain.”

Klaas also said that, on top of the potential economic benefits and relative cost, there is a precedent for this approach. Peer institutions such as Tufts University and Emory University, he said, have both contracted with the businesses he contacted during the pandemic for  housing and classroom-related reasons. 

Klaas said that Dartmouth has “been very quiet,” since he submitted the proposal for temporary housing. 

“When you do hear back, there is always a reason why something can’t be done or that it is being worked on,” Klaas said.  

For example, Klaas said that when he initially submitted the proposal, it was immediately denied due to a lack of sprinklers in the blueprints for the housing units. Klaas responded that sprinklers could be easily added, but said that he had not yet received a response from the administration as of August 3.

“Dartmouth has had ample time and opportunity to resolve the housing shortage, but as each day passes the solution will require more resources to solve,” Klaas said. 

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said that while the town has discussed modular housing with the College, it is an improbable option. 

“Between the code restrictions and the long lead time to acquire this sort of housing, it is highly unlikely the College or anyone else can move quickly enough to respond to the challenges this fall,” Griffin said.

Lord said that the current housing crisis has also underscored other long-term issues that impact both the College and the local community. 

“We’re also concerned about the effect that students scrambling for off-campus housing in the Upper Valley has on affordable housing for people who live in the Upper Valley and are just trying to make a living,” she said.

Griffin echoed Lord’s concerns, adding that the combined shortage of student housing and the overall housing shortage in the Upper Valley is equal to approximately 10,000 units. 

“[This shortage] results in unrealistically high rental prices — and often for fairly substandard, less-than-well maintained housing,” Griffin said.  

All three parents and Griffin said that progress must be made on new dorms so that the College does not see further housing shortages in the future. 

“One first very important step would be for the College to build a minimum of 600 additional [dorm rooms] and for the vast preponderance of Dartmouth students, both undergraduate and graduate students, to be provided housing in College-owned units, properly constructed and maintained,” Griffin said. “If the College built sufficient housing for all of its students, that would likely free up well over 1,500 housing units for others in need of housing, including staff who work for Dartmouth and [Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center].”

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