Corporate Dormlords

Public-private partnerships are supposed to provide the best of both worlds. Corporations constantly feed us the narrative that public institutions can provide better, cheaper services to the communities they serve by shifting costs and risks to for-profit institutions.

The actions of corporate dormlords Corvias and Greystar show that this is not the case. They have made it clear that, for them, profit comes before everything else. Pursuing private gain at the public expense, they threaten public resources and potentially threaten public health.

The Rise of Corporate Dormlords

In the post-Great Recession economy, student housing in the United States is increasingly built and managed through public-private partnerships (P3). Student housing attracts for-profit companies because of the rising levels of enrollment in higher education. They view student housing as a guaranteed source of profits. On the university side, declining funding and aging student housing stock create concerns about their ability to attract students. The reduced funds from state legislatures, coupled with this pursuit of competitive advantage, have led higher education institutions to turn to private capital to build new housing.

It sounded like a win-win. But the evidence is mounting that, for corporate dormlords, profit is their primary consideration.

The Corvias Approach

In 2014, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia initiated a 65-year deal valued at $517 million with Corvias, a private company. In exchange for student fees for housing on nine campuses, Corvias would oversee the new construction of more than 3,700 beds, maintain the entire portfolio of approximately 9,950 beds, and issue over $500 million in debt.

The USG was required to cover all student refunds related to Corvias housing at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. As USG schools moved to remote work, Corvias demanded that the USG lease beds from them to fulfill their financial bottom line-- beds that the USG could not use. When the USG refused, Corvias suggested that students would pay the price for USG's disagreement.

Corvias cut their budget with facilities at USG schools by 24 percent. The company provided 57 staff members before the pandemic. After the cuts, there were only 10.

In short, Corvias refused to meet its contractual obligations to USG because it was unprofitable.

Corvias has a track record of neglecting its responsibility to tenants. It has been operating housing on military installations since the early 2000s. The company has been the subject of congressional investigations, news stories, and even a lawsuit (Addi v. Corvias) for subjecting military families to substandard housing conditions, including mold, lead, insect infestations, and failure to perform maintenance. Is this the kind of “partnership” that higher education should be pursuing?