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Higher Education

Rising Rents, Housing Shortage Create Crisis for HBCU Students

Already facing a housing crunch, Morehouse’s president says applications could double over the next three years.

Students at Spelman College and other members of the Atlanta University Center Consortium are currently grappling with a housing crisis spurred by a surge in interest in HBCUs. (Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Leron Thomas is one week away from the start of his junior year at Morehouse College, but the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native has no idea where he’s going to live. 

This would be Thomas’ fifth semester at Morehouse — and his first with no housing. 

He entered the school’s housing draft but wasn’t among the lucky few to receive an on-campus dorm. 

So Thomas has traveled back to Baton Rouge to work at Walmart full time, hoping he can save up to pay for off-campus housing this spring. He might have to work for two semesters to afford Atlanta’s rising rents, he said

“It’s a little disheartening to know that in a blink of an eye, they’ll just put you off campus without considering everything,” Thomas said. “They just kind of put a major roadblock in front of a lot of people’s education.”

Like many students, Thomas has become a victim of the HBCU housing crunch, a long-standing problem that has intensified this year as the number of applications for incoming freshmen has jumped. Interest in top-rated HBCUs has risen nearly 30% or more in recent years. 

The growing numbers are creating challenges for students at these institutions in the West End of Atlanta. Morehouse, for instance, has just over 1,400 beds available for its more than 2,200 students, according to college Dean Kevin Booker. And the problem could get worse. Morehouse President David A. Thomas told The Washington Post that he’s expecting another surge in applications, from 6,000 this year to as many as 12,000 in the next three years.

Losing on-campus housing creates an enormous financial burden on students at the Atlanta University Center, which includes Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University. At Clark, students pay nearly $4,500 per semester for a traditional single, on-campus dorm, compared to the $7,000 it costs to rent a one-bedroom apartment off campus for four months.

Last fall, Morehouse and Spelman students held protests over concerns about housing shortages. Those students fear the situation is going to get worse following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that effectively banned affirmative action in colleges. 

Students and their parents have called for a variety of solutions, from giving priority to out-of-state students to working with local hotels and landlords to house students temporarily. 

Alexia Innis, a rising senior at Clark Atlanta University, wants her school to renovate the vacant buildings on campus and turn them into habitable dormitories. Because housing isn’t promised for upperclassmen, Innis said she’s been at risk of having to find off campus housing since her junior year. 

“There are so many abandoned dorm rooms across the street from the biggest dorms on campus that could be renovated right now,” Innis said. “But we’re getting all these donations, and no renovations are happening. There’s space on campus to make living facilities, yet they choose not to.”

Capital B Atlanta reached out to Clark Atlanta officials for comment, but did not receive a response.

Briana Prout, a senior at Spelman majoring in biology, is another student who lived on campus last school year but now has to live off-campus due to limited housing options. Not having on-campus housing has put the New Jersey native at risk of not graduating on time, as she is determined to find two jobs to support her education and off-campus living. Prout believes there are alternatives that could help current and future Spelman students.

“They need to network more with apartments in the Atlanta area, make it more of an option for students to be able to pay for their rent through tuition, because not everybody’s parents or families can afford to pay monthly rent out of pocket,” Prout said. 

Spelman officials did not return Capital B Atlanta’s request for comment.

While the schools have hosted housing fairs that provide options near campus, some students said those alternatives aren’t always affordable. 

Davida Morgan Washington, president of the National Morehouse College Parents Council, said that, in some cases, parents have told her they have to choose between paying their own mortgage and their student’s rent. She believes that an interim solution is for the college and the city to work together to find hotels near campus to house students. Longer term, she hopes the college or the city can build or rebuild on- and off-campus housing that’s affordable for the students.

“When you start to think about Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Spelman, we need to take some of this space and build dorms high up,” said Washington, whose group helps ease communication between parents and the Morehouse administration. “That needs to be a fundraising priority so that we can house all these students that we don’t wanna turn away.”

Washington, whose son is a rising senior at Morehouse, added that she doesn’t believe the housing shortage is a result of negligence on the part of anyone or the school itself, but just the situation they’re having to work through. 

Booker, Morehouse’s dean who also serves as vice president for student services, said the school’s responsibility is to ensure students can attend school and have housing, if available. But based on the current situation, he said, there are no guarantees. Morehouse decided to provide all freshman housing this year, Booker said, which wasn’t promised to last year’s freshman.

For the current students who are struggling to find housing, Booker suggested going to Morehouse Off-Campus Housing or to the Interdenominational Theological Center, which offers low-cost living and allows students to sign a yearlong lease.

He noted there are plans to build more student housing, including an on-campus dormitory that Booker said he hopes construction will start on by June and finish in an estimated two to three years. 

“The tennis courts will become our new area for residential housing in June of next year,” Booker said. “We will build a three 300-room-plus facility that will meet the needs of the college, so that we don’t have to look at a situation where we can’t house all of the students that desire to live on campus.”

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