Capone: Why Can’t Dartmouth Ever Fix Its Own Problems? Part I: Housing
Dartmouth must provide adequate solutions to a housing crisis of their own making.
I find myself continually frustrated by the College’s ignorance of the problems it creates for itself. I’m struck by how the administration struggles to provide logical, effective solutions in a timely manner. It seems as if they don’t care. At all.
This article is the first in a new series that will investigate the numerous problems of Dartmouth’s own creation and explore why this institution has failed to provide adequate solutions — or solutions at all. For this opening issue, I will focus on the ever-present topic of housing.
Ever since Dartmouth first opened its doors to women in 1972, admitting roughly double the number of applicants, the institution has faced a housing shortage. Stagnation in building additional residence halls coupled with this larger enrolled class led to the adoption of the D-Plan in an effort to distribute the number of students on campus at any given time. Yet on the eve of the housing crisis’ 50th anniversary, very little has changed.
This fall, the College desperately tried to incentivize students to live off campus or take the term off by offering them a spot in a $5,000 lottery. Yet this idea completely overlooked the state of the Upper Valley real estate market — which has become increasingly overwhelmed in part due to an inability to match high demand from students. According to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, the vacancy rate in Grafton County in 2020 was 2.8%; a “balanced” rental market should aim for 4–5%. Besides dorms and on-campus apartments, there really isn’t anywhere else to live.
Moreover, the $5,000 sum provided by Dartmouth may not even be enough to cover living expenses for a single term in the Upper Valley: The average cost of rent in Grafton County is $1,307 (with most 1- and 2-bedroom rental units ranging from $2,062 to as much as $3,111) and the average cost of utilities is $256.11 (per month), meaning that many living situations in the notoriously high-rent Upper Valley exceed Dartmouth’s allotment — and that doesn’t even take into account the cost of transportation.
It’s worth noting too that this lottery option — which doesn’t subsidize every student who is forced to live off-campus — came after the College created a housing waitlist in an attempt to moderate demand, to little avail. The very fact that the College has to resort to bribery should demonstrate that Dartmouth, at the very least, recognizes this crisis and is desperate to try and alleviate it. But a one-time lump sum won’t fix a problem that has been plaguing the administration for fifty years.
College parents have brought to the table a myriad of potential solutions to the housing crisis, such as modular or temporary housing and renting out rooms in Hanover’s two hotels. One parent pointed out, correctly, that “[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.”
In the few months since the publication of that article, Dartmouth has failed to both provide a logical explanation for the rejection of reasonable solutions and take actionable steps to address this issue. Indeed, the proposals mentioned above — in addition to a proposal to construct another dormitory building — have all either been rejected or placed on hold indefinitely.
There’s also the issue of the administration’s sheer neglect of most dorms, many of which were built before World War II or have not seen renovations in decades. Students routinely voice problems with basic livability issues. When renovations are attempted, they further inconvenience students; just ask residents of La Casa and the Sustainable Living Center.
If all of this wasn’t enough, according to an email last week from Interim Dean of the College Scott Brown, the College recently discovered significant mold growth in all 17 air handlers tested in the Andres and Zimmerman residence halls. As these two dorms are among some of the newest, I shudder to think what some of the non-renovated, outdated dorms likely have hidden within their walls and pipes.
But what bothers me the most about the housing problem is that the school has more than enough money to make changes: As announced earlier this week, Dartmouth’s endowment grew to $8.5 billion this year. Clearly, money is not the issue. The real issue is that Dartmouth’s lack of proper response to these avoidable issues has only worsened the problems on hand: in an article published by Dartmouth in 2018, interim public affairs director Susan Boutwell wrote that “[t]he housing shortage has not permitted the College to address deferred maintenance of existing residence halls, as such work requires closing a building for at least a year” and that according to administrators, “there is no ‘swing space’ in which to house students during the renovation work.” As Dartmouth has failed to build additional dorms, it has dug its own grave in providing adequate, livable housing.
If you further consider the College’s recent study abroad cuts — which will likely increase demand for on-campus accommodation— and the fact that the school seems to be increasing its enrollment year by year, you get a compounding problem that the College has been staring directly in the face and ignoring. Dartmouth’s plans to build a residential dorm starting in fall of 2023 might seem at first to be the solution in mediating this issue, but it simply isn’t enough to address the extent of the problem.
Student displacement has become so dire that it threatens to leave students quite literally stranded on the street as a result of the College’s refusal to acknowledge the problem: with very few rental properties available, and those that are vacant being extremely expensive, students are forced to find some other living arrangement or take an entire term off, likely delaying their ability to graduate on time. It’s also worth noting that the housing crisis disproportionately affects lower-income students who are not living in a residence hall; outside of partial aid like a $5,000 check, they face even greater hardship in the extremes of the overcrowded and overpriced Upper Valley rental market.
Simply put, the situation has become embarrassing, and Dartmouth’s response to the crisis reveals a lack of care for its own students. Why are we, the core of this school, always being pushed aside and put last?
I recognize that the College can't control the Upper Valley housing shortage, and that it can’t expand without the permission of the obstructionist town that is Hanover. But the lackluster efforts on their part only convey an incapability to solve the issue at hand. Without enough dorms to give every student a home, how can we call this a place of homecoming?