Emory University will break ground on the first phase of the Graduate and Professional Student Housing Initiative in fall 2022, a project which will erect housing dedicated to graduate and professional students. 

The project will add 1,000 beds to the current 400-bed graduate housing capacity in an effort to create affordable housing for the University’s graduate population of approximately 7,000 students, said Associate Vice President of Planning and Engagement David Payne during a virtual community meeting on June 23.

Located on the corner of North Decatur Road and Haygood Drive near Emory University Hospital and Druid Hills High School, the building will include a mix of single, double and studio units, a parking garage, a coffee shop and a student center with various amenities. Graduate students are expected to begin living in the new housing by summer 2024, with the project being completed in 2027.

The majority of respondents in a University survey gauging graduate student’s opinions on housing, cited the cost of housing as an important issue, with 52% calling it their “most pressing concern.” Outgoing Laney Graduate Student Council (LGSC) President Samantha Lanjewar (24G) said she is “excited” that the University is prioritizing affordability, as the average rental rate of off-campus studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom properties is $1,462 for those within one-and-a-half miles of campus and $1,295 for those within three miles.

“We’re extremely excited because this is something that LGSC has been promoting for a long time, especially for international students,” Lanjewar said. “The big thing we advocated for is that it’s affordable because without our stipend, it’s extremely difficult to afford housing in Atlanta. There is wariness about making sure Emory makes it affordable for people but not cramming [them] into tiny spaces.”

The plans for new graduate student housing, as presented in a virtual graduate housing community meeting on June 23.

The University’s 2018 annexation into the City of Atlanta has presented potential obstacles for the project, explained DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader. Although the majority of the campus is now within city limits, the surrounding neighborhoods, including the Druid Hills historic district, belong to DeKalb. 

The project’s proposal involves annexing an additional University-owned house into Atlanta, a situation which Rader said could be disadvantageous to the Druid Hills community.

“Formerly DeKalb would have had the authority to consider the rezoning and to work to ensure the community’s interests were addressed,” Rader said. “All of the effects of any activity at Emory continue to be felt primarily by unincorporated DeKalb stakeholders, but the entitlement authority resides several miles to the west in the City of Atlanta. That dynamic is one that compels us to be involved but does not provide us with the authority that we formerly had.”

The University will file for rezoning of this property from “residential” to the “office and institutional” zoning category, which is consistent with most of the campus.

Graduate housing is attractive to prospective graduate students since “[Emory] is at a competitive disadvantage with our peers with having a lack of graduate housing on campus,” Payne said.

Graduate student responses from fall 2020 focus groups and surveys that indicated a desire from students to live closer to campus spurred the initiative. Respondents also advocated for single-space occupancy units and a common space dedicated to graduate students to help build community.

“[We] had a 20% response rate, and one of the key points they asked for in grad housing is being able to walk to class and being on campus,” Payne said. “The key feature is that [the building] is 15 minutes from all the different academic programs on campus.”

Payne added that the multi-use trails and sidewalks currently connecting the different areas of  campus will play a crucial role not only for students navigating the campus but also for the community at large. The University funds the maintenance of the pathways in collaboration with the PATH Foundation, an organization focused on creating multi-use paths in the Atlanta area.

Rader expressed three main concerns with the University’s housing initiative: increased traffic, aesthetic compatibility and the transition between the new building and the surrounding area. Maintaining a “seamless” gateway between the campus and the community is a priority, as well as minimizing a “dead zone” of unappealing, unused land on the outer border. 

“The edge between Emory and the Druid Hills neighborhood that surrounds it is one of the great aesthetic attractions of the district,” Rader said. 

Druid Hills High School representative Marshall Orson, a nine-year member of the DeKalb County Board of Education from District 2, also cited traffic congestion as one of the school district’s main concerns. Orson said that the dangerous “blind curve” drivers exiting the high school face has been a long-standing issue, noting that the University’s project could interfere with the school district’s plans to create a safer intersection. 

“It’s of increasing concern now because we think part of the solution to fixing the blind spot in that road would be to potentially straighten Haygood Drive out,” Orson said. “The urgency comes from the fact that if Emory now puts a building where the road might need to go we’ll never be able to fix the problem.”

However, Orson is optimistic that the project will be a catalyst for increased collaboration between the University and the school district as it pertains to academic offerings and facility usage. The feature of the project most attractive to the school district is the parking deck, which Orson hopes can alleviate the insufficient parking he said plagues the “landlocked” high school.

Rader said he has consulted with the University to discuss solutions and act as a conduit between residents and the University. Notably, he said that residents have voiced displeasure over the deforestation and destruction of a park currently sitting on the University’s private property allocated for construction.

“People are naturally concerned about the reflex issues, but hopefully we can see improvements that will mitigate those,” Rader said.