Dorm Closures and the Chapel Hill Housing Market

I was surprised to read this headline in the Daily Tar Heel today: "University closed Stacy and Everett due to low housing enrollment." But maybe I shouldn't have been.

Stacy and Everett residence halls combined house 189 students, but this year, only 135 signed up to live there. The two dorms will be repurposed for the 2015-16 school year.

Rick Bradley, associate director of housing and residential education, cited the expansion of new apartment communities and a lack of desirable amenities in student housing for the loss in enrollment.

“It’s not uncommon for a 9,000-bed operation like us to have 200 or so vacancies. That became our standard: 98 percent occupancy. In fall 2014, that 300 became 500, so the concern rose,” Bradley said.

“When that 500 empty spaces last fall now looks like it’ll be 800 this fall, we are opening at about a little over 90 percent occupancy. Our awareness has now been heightened.”

When I started school as an undergraduate in 2002, North Campus was the place to be: the only way I got a North Campus assignment as a freshman was the poor enrollment in a Substance Free Housing program opening up several free slots in Joyner dorm where the program was housed.

But in a few short years, with renovations to South Campus apartment-style dorms, the center of campus life had definitely shifted south. I moved off campus after my freshman year and probably missed just how large the transition was since I wasn't living there anymore, but undoubtedly the demand for North Campus dorms isn't what it used to be. Even so, the enrollment changes in North Campus housing are interesting as we consider the role of students in the larger Chapel Hill housing picture.

One might consider that South Campus residences are less tied to the larger Chapel Hill community: they're further from Franklin and Rosemary Street businesses; they even have their own small grocery store. While I got to know the town, at least downtown, pretty quickly as an undergraduate, I have my doubts that students on South Campus are making those same connections.

But it's also interesting to think about the amenities side of the picture. Students are demanding more of their living spaces - private rooms, private or at least less-shared bathrooms, space for parking, less control from Resident Advisors - than they were in years past. When the university doesn't provide these resources, students turn to the private market, and increasingly, the private market has provided. And as much as students might be blamed for putting pressure on the housing market for everyone else, we can hardly fault them for making economically-concious decisons. The last time I ran the numbers it was still cheaper per person to live off campus in many four-person shared houses than to get an on campus dorm room, and you had to share the dorm room.

It's not necessarily concerning by itself, but this news does make me think about the ramifications on many assumptions we make as community, about housing demands, about how we're meeting the needs of the residents of our town whose occupation happens to be student, and about students roles in helping determine the answers to these questions.

What do you think? Is this a sign of change, or has the change already occurred and dorm closings just a natural conclusion?



My son went to Appalachian and lived in a dorm for his freshman year. He got out of there as fast as possible. Small room shared with a room-mate. RA's uselessly on his case.

To my surprise, it was cheaper for him to live off campus. No-brainer. More privacy. He could cook his own food. Less risk of getting busted. Life lessons learned dealing with rent, utilities, and communal living to a degree. Everything about it was better.

I lived in HoJo(Hinton James) on south campus 1968-70. In 1969 a lot of apartments opened in Carrboro and two floors of James had no students and were used as short-term rentals for visitors. By 1970-71 the market had absorbed the new apartments and those two floors became student dorms again

We spoke about this at the Visitor's Bureau meeting this week. Dorms or Residence Halls, as they are now called, need to evolve. Kids have moved on from the traditional living experience, yet dorms have not changed for decades. It's time to look at a different model and understand that a campus comes alive when students live on-site. 

The unfortunate reality is that it costs more to build a dorm, apartment or anything else on state property than it does off campus. The State/University has to build to a more rigid fire and safety code than private developers do. So the new reality is that, like Mark says, it costs more to live on campus than off-campus since Housing is a cost-recovery unit--they have to pay for themselves whether they are full or empty.

Trust me, I know the costs. I now have two boys in college. Mikko lived on campus at App State for 2 years. I think it is important for kids to be in the thick of it for two years. Brody will do the same at UNCG.

I think there is a lot to be learned by being independent off or near campus. It's more of a transition to real life. And for students that don't need the sophomoric policing that goes on, it's a relief. My kids were independent at a relatively early age, so that is part of the equation. Different strokes. Freedom with responsibility is a good goal.

"More students turn to off-campus housing"

“The closings were heavily influenced by the new apartment complexes off campus,” said Rick Bradley, the associate director of housing and residential education.

Taylor Bates, the president of the Residence Hall Association, said the rise in students living off campus is becoming a problem for the dorms, but it also gives his organization and the University an opportunity to grow.

“We have to take a chance to adapt and realize that housing has changed since the dorms were built,” Bates said. “If we update our approach, we can survive all of the off-campus apartments that our being built.”

My son is now living in a dorm as a sophmore at NC State. I just visited College of Wooster and saw a former student who is now a first year there. A big advantage of living on campus is you tend to be more involved with college activities. (And I think the safety record is better on campus.)



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