At Western Washington University, on-campus student housing applications for the 2021-2022 school year have exceeded the number of beds available.
At a Board of Trustees meeting on June 11, Director of University Residences Leonard Jones said 4,150 applicants have applied for on-campus housing. That’s 784 students over Western’s capacity of 3,366.
“We are committed to our guarantee of housing for all new Freshman/Transfer students as they transition away from home and live on their own for the first time,” said Karen Walker, associate director of occupancy, communication and administrative decisions at Western. “Sometimes this means that our waitlists are longer for upper-division students, but we almost always offer to all folks who really want to live on campus.”
Offering housing to all first-year and transfer students first leaves upper-division students at Western less certain if they will be offered housing. At the June 11 Board of Trustees meeting, Jones said one of the groups of students that have not been offered are students who lived on campus in 2019-2020.
“We have many many rising sophomore students who didn’t get that first year on-campus experience for which they were looking forward to their entire high school career,” trustee Faith Pettis said at the June 11 meeting.
Walker said there is no need for incoming students who want to live on campus to panic.
“So far we have offered [residency] to all new freshmen and transfer students who applied for fall 2021, and all returning students as well,” Walker said.
Walker is confident in the university’s ability to provide housing to its students; she said there was only one time in the last 20 years when waitlisted students did not get offers to live on campus.
All applicants for on-campus housing that applied after May 1 are put onto a waitlist in the order they applied for housing openings, according to Western’s on-campus housing website.
Incoming Western first-year Hannah Zeien said she had no problem securing her room on campus.
“Room selection hasn’t happened yet, but I have a time slot to select a room,” Zeien said. “I’m excited for the activities around campus with the full community of students living there. I’m also excited to be able to connect with my suitemates and others who live in my dorm community.”
Western senior Parker Rivas had a different experience with Western housing. Rivas said it was confusing trying to find which dates to apply for Birnam Wood housing for special appeals students.
Rivas recently received confirmation for his spot in Birnam Wood apartments but noted how difficult the process was. Rivas said his calls to the Western housing department would go to students and not higher-up people whom he needed to speak with.
“I was going to apply for WWU Living Apartments but did not want to pay the $100 application fee if I could get student housing,” Rivas said. “I don’t know if it would be worth going through [the on-campus housing problems] again.”
Rivas said Birnam Wood was only a nine-month lease so he was not committed to renting over summer. This incentivized him to get on-campus housing rather than off-campus which typically has 12-month leases.
“We are proud that we do not have a live-on requirement at Western,” Walker said. “Students choose to live with us. This puts the risk on us, as we could end up with hundreds of empty beds, as students choose where they want to live each year.”
Walker said Western will only be using 85% of the total designated beds on campus this fall so there are beds available in case they are needed for COVID-19 protocols.
Whatcom Community College, also located in Bellingham, has not experienced the same issues. Community college students usually live at home while attending, but on-campus housing is still available.
The Whatcom Community College residence hall has availability due to reduced capacity from COVID-19, said Director for Community Standards and Residence Life Terri Thayer.
Thayer said the guidance received for housing was to reduce the impact of residents sharing bathrooms. Their residence hall is set up with bathrooms that are located in each unit. A four-bedroom unit has two bathrooms so with only two residents in each unit this provides each student their own bathroom.
This reduced capacity to 50% total.
“Housing struggles for our students isn't necessarily about capacity but the cost of housing in Whatcom County,” Thayer said.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Micheal Look said local construction cannot keep up with the demand for housing. New construction is not geared for affordable housing.
“The new housing being built is geared towards higher-end apartments that are not meant for middle or low income,” Look said. “Bellingham has more single-family homes compared to Seattle which has more multi-family and skyrise apartments for students.”
Look said the apartment vacancy in Bellingham this year was 1.4%, almost 1% lower than last year’s vacancy.
Justin Troia is a communication studies major and a reporter for The Front. He specializes in on-campus and student news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.