Uncertainty haunts fall housing plans

As King County implements guidelines for COVID-19, SPU attempts to plan on-campus housing for next year.

Julia Herman, Assistant News Editor

A dorm building
SPU plans to move forward with housing and roommate assignments for fall quarter, with the possibility that arrangements may change to meet King County and Washington State requirements. (Blake Dahlin)

Many aspects of the 2020-2021 academic year are up in the air as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The plans for on-campus housing for next year are shifting constantly as Gov. Jay Inslee continues to make new orders surrounding social distancing.

Housing and Meal Plan Services sent out the on-campus housing application via email May 12, which is later than in typical years. Although Seattle Pacific University plans on moving forward with housing, they warned that aspects of housing are subject to change.

“Please note that the assignment process may need to be modified based on evolving King County and Washington state guidelines related to COVID-19. In that case, you will be notified as soon as possible,” the email from Housing and Meal Plan Services read.

In previous years, returning students were able to choose their rooming assignments. According to the email, students will submit their building and roommate preferences and their assignment will be sent out July 15.

Priority for housing preferences will stay the same. Those who want to stay in their buildings from this previous year will get priority and those who are already in the campus apartments will get assigned first.

This current spring quarter, SPU offered housing to all students who wished to continue living on campus while following King County’s safety guidelines.

SPU is exploring many different scenarios for housing next fall as guidelines continue to change with the pandemic.

“We are working on lots of different options. So, everything from what exactly happened in the fall last year to even what we have going on now, to everything in between,” Dean of Students for Community Life Chuck Strawn said over Zoom.

Strawn discussed how it is difficult to solidify specific plans when guidelines are being updated and changed as the pandemic continues.

One of the larger issues with SPU providing on-campus housing in the fall is how different the dorm buildings are. With Emerson and Arnett Hall, they were able to safely follow the guidelines since they could control how many people shared a bathroom.

If the guidelines were to change, the university will be able to open up the three communal dorms, but if the guidelines remain in place then it poses a challenge for the university to decide who gets priority for housing for the two suite-style dorms.

“Is it just going to be first and second-year students because that’s who we have an obligation to house based on our housing policy? Or is it going to be students with labs? Is it going to be people that have to live here because they work on campus? Or is it people that have to live here because home isn’t safe? There are all these different variables,” Strawn said.

The communal dormitory halls are traditionally less expensive than the suite-style dorms. This past quarter, since those who chose to live on campus all had to move to suite-style, the university reduced the rate, but this could potentially not be the case depending on if all the dorms are open.

“A lot of it is still up in the air and we are working and planning as if things are going to be normal with the prices that have already been approved by the university,” Strawn said. “All things are on the table, but we are also trying to be conscious of the fact that this is not just a health issue, this is an economic issue.”

Although there are many different factors playing into what housing will look like for next year, and much of it is up in the air due to guidelines shifting, SPU is planning to offer some form of housing next year.

“The university is planning for lots of different scenarios, but there are very few of those scenarios that would say we wouldn’t have housing on campus next year. Because if we did it this spring, unless there is something terrible that happens — and with the way that 2020 is working— who knows,” Strawn said with a laugh.

“But at this point, there are plans for housing to be on campus next year and what it looks like and those types of things we are still waiting on experts to give us guidance.”