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Tommy Johnston, a WCU student impacted by housing crisis reads list of demands. Photo: Grace Zwierzyna

West Chester University housing crisis persists

On Wednesday, February 15th, WCU students gathered to protest the administration’s lack of response and housing efforts. Find out what students demand from WCU.

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West Chester University (WCU) housing crisis persists, and many students sharing their future studies remain uncertain—many escaping dysfunctional households, others’ hoping to obtain a college degree, but even students with disabilities are not “exempt” from facing the University’s inability to accommodate the growing student population. 

WCU was able to experience “a record-breaking incoming class” with a “28% increase in size since the year 2014.”

On December 9, 2022, approximately 800 WCU students received letters from WCU administration stating that as a result of the randomized Housing Selection Process, the institution was not able to offer them the opportunity to continue to Phase 2 in the WCU 2023-2024 Housing Application Process.

One of the students impacted was Tommy Johnston, a Junior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in English Education (B.S.Ed). In a statement to AL DÍA, he explained, “I currently live in an

apartment in traditional on South Campus Apartments with four other roommates, all denied housing. Right now, a lot of the stress we are having with finding housing is that there isn’t any option that accommodates the number of people we’re living with.”

He further adds that it is difficult to decide how to split up with his roommates since they would rather stay together. 

“The other issue is a lot of the housing is already gone,” Johnston explains. “This would have been a lot easier to solve if we knew in September or before when there were more options. But they sent us out in December when everything, for the most part, was already gone.”

WCU gave students two options University Student Housing (USH), a private non-profit organization that provides suite-style and apartment living on WCU’s campus, often referred to as USH affiliated housing or off-campus and commuter services, provides housing options for WCU students—with the average one-bedroom apartment in West Chester costing $1,800. 

USH Affiliated Housing Communities comprise Allegheny Hall, Brandywine Hall, Commonwealth Hall, University Hall, The Village Apartments, and East Village Apartments. 

However, WCU housing rates for 2022-2023 per semester can range from $2,966-$4,594, directly billed on the student’s tuition bill. USH Affiliated Housing rates for 2022-2023 per semester can range from $4,896-$5,942—approximately $2,500 more for a single room at USH- Affiliated housing. Additionally, a ten-month lease at a USH Affiliated Housing can cost a student as low as $9,884 or as high as $11,883. 

First wave of protests

Students mobilized two demonstrations on campus before the end of the Fall 2022 semester, demanding the privatized USH housing be made public and affordable; all students have access to affordable, adequate public housing. Also, WCU offers students a stipend to make up the difference in housing costs, and create more public dormitories.

WCU President Christopher Fiorentino sent an email on February 10th to the WCU Community providing a detailed response to the op-ed written by students in the Quad (The University’s newspaper). He addressed each of the students’ demands. 

A one-time stipend of “$2,000 to returning students who submitted their housing request application on time, completed the ECU-managed “Request to House” form by the deadline, and will ultimately be unable to be assigned to on-campus housing” will be awarded, Fiorentino states in his email.

However, the University mentions it experienced a $72 million loss during the 2019-2020 school year due to the pandemic, “which reduced the University’s reserves and ability to take on new debt in pursuit of additional building.” 

He further adds that the Borough of West Chester and West Goshen Township have worked together to approve the Planned University Campus District—which would allow the University the support to build additional residence halls, which will take  approximately 36- months once the site is determined. 

Addressing the need and urgency of additional student housing, “the University continues to have regular and ongoing conversations with local and state officials, as well as area property owners, to advocate for the needs of our students, especially as it relates to affordable options in a community that they call home,” said President Fiorentino. 

If the University transfers USH-owned housing to WCU- owned it would cost more than $200 million, which President Fiorentino says “would irreparably harm the University’s finances and credit rating. Those costs, by Board of Governors policy, would have to be passed on to students through increased housing fees. For those reasons and more, we cannot pursue this option.” 

Second wave of protests

An hour before the February 15th protest, WCU President Fiorentino sent an email extending the $2,000 stipend to the 400 students denied in the first letter. 

Despite the small victory of a one-time $2,000 stipend, students gathered at Academic Quad as previously stipulated, anxious to share their thoughts and testimonies of how the housing crisis continued to impact them or someone close to them. Some of the stories were disheartening, especially of students who left for college hoping to leave abusive households that have found themselves going back home—unable to afford USH- Affiliated housing or off-campus housing. 

“This institution does not value equity. It does not value fairness. That’s an outrage,” said Sean Donoghue-Neider, a WCU Senior, majoring in Urban Community Change, during Wednesday’s protest at Academy Quad. “It cultivates a ridiculous amount of revenue. The top people in the administration are paid way too much. How about taking a pay cut and making the students’ lives a little bit easier”— a statement praised by other protesters, who shared similar sentiments chanting, “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.” 

A new demand of a $20,000 stipend for all students denied traditional housing, now and going forward, was presented during the protest.

Grace, the social media coordinator for Student for Socialism, shared an anonymous DM a student shared with her, expressing frustration with WCU Residence Life’s inability to accommodate her disability. Her mother told Residence Life that “it was a great disservice to students with disabilities who were told (housing was available) and that factored into their college decision-making process. Unfortunately, this is up to chance at this point. I’m very frustrated and angered that students without any medical issues are being given housing above students with disabilities.”

After several students took turns sharing their stories, they started marching at 2:42 pm towards the second floor of Lawrence Hall, where the Academic Advising Office, Career Development Center, tutoring Center, and other administration can be found. During this time, the University was holding on-campus tours. 

Some of the chants were “What do we want, better housing. When do we want it, NOW!” and “housing is a human right, Fight! Fight! Fight!.” 

 

Students are still demanding the following:

  • Make affordable housing options available for ALL students through traditional housing
  • Develop new public dorm buildings or additions to existing WCU-owned buildings to accommodate the students 
  • Have WCU officials advocate and communicate the urgency for the provision of additional student housing options to the state and borough legislature
  • Reverse USH-owned housing facilities back to WCU-owned facilities 

In a statement to Al DÍA, West Chester University said the following regarding the housing crisis:

“The University understands the need for additional housing to accommodate the increased demand to live on campus and continues to work diligently to explore all viable opportunities. Last Friday, President Fiorentino distributed a communication to our students that shared information about a one-time $2,000 scholarship for those students who completed the “Request to House” form for WCU-managed housing. In a continued effort to support even more returning students, the Office of Student Affairs released a communication yesterday that informed students that this opportunity has been expanded to include all returning students who applied for WCU-managed housing by the close of the application on December 9, 2022, regardless of whether they completed the Request to House Form. The University’s ability to provide this one-time support is because of recent COVID funds designed to support institutions in addressing pandemic-related impacts. At the same time, the University continues to explore all short-term alternatives, including a possible nearby site that could potentially accommodate residential students for fall 2023.”


 

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