A Closer Look at the Economic Ramifications of the Third-Year Housing Mandate Lexington’s Threatened Million-Dollar Industry

By Latham Peak

There has been much talk in this issue regarding the proposal requiring juniors to live on campus. One issue that should be considered is what impact this potential mandate would have not only for Washington and Lee students, but for the surrounding Lexington and Rockbridge community as well.

“The most compelling reason for mandating third year housing,” Dean Evans said, “was to preserve, protect, and promote the sense of community that W&L students value on campus.”  According to Dean Evans, many W&L students complain the social scene involves a gross imbalance: exchanges on the Hill are short-lived while off-campus interactions usually involve alcohol. In other words, there is no central meeting point for students to mix that does not involve libations or learning. But, would third year housing serve as the fitting sequel to Graham Lees we’ve all been waiting for?

While the proposed mandate could facilitate a renewed sense of community to W&L juniors, C-School professor Tim Diette explains that there are both winners and losers from an economic viewpoint:

“The Rockbridge renters and landowners would suffer from a decrease in rent,” said Diette. “Off campus houses are owned [by everyone] from out of town investors to even W&L professors. Subsequently, local renters, such as W&L seniors and law students, would benefit from lower monthly rents.”

Many of these home-owners bought their houses under the assumption that there would be a continual demand amongst W&L juniors and seniors. Some of these entities offer a consistent second line of income to landlords, who rely on the extra cash flow..

“But, there is a risk with any investment,” adds Diette. Considering the average student living off campus pays around $400 per month (a reasonable estimate), and there are probably around 400 students in the average junior class living off campus (another reasonable estimate), and most leases are for twelve months, then the Lexington community would be losing $160,000 per month if these rental houses and apartments are not filled, equating to a loss of almost two-million dollars a year. This does not even factor in the losses that landlords would suffer by having to lower their prices in order to attract the remaining renters. In a community the size of Lexington, this loss of revenue from the housing market could be devastating.

The potential mandate for on-campus third year housing has many students up in arms who think it will diminish the identity of the school. However, many students also agree with Dean Evans that there is a weakened sense of community amongst W&L students after freshman year. Since there are some students who would enjoy a greater sense of fellowship with their classmates on campus, wouldn’t a clear solution be optional third-year housing?

“We need to make sure all the on-campus buildings are full in order to break even,” explained Dean Evans. “This would not be a moneymaker for the school.”

            While the Board of Trustees is expected to discuss and vote on this issue this academic year, the issue of mandatory on-campus third-year housing is certainly polarizing. Regardless of your particular view, the W&L community must be cognizant that this school will incur a very dramatic, identity altering change if mandatory third-year housing is implemented, for better or for worse.

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