HILO — Preliminary numbers show a dip in the occupancy rate for the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s newest dormitory, Hale Alahonua, which has struggled to reach capacity since it opened in fall 2013.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes said Thursday that as of Sept. 14, Hale Alahonua had 189 student residents, a 63 percent occupancy rate, which is down from last year’s 205 total, or 68 percent occupancy.
In Fall 2016, however, the dorm had 148 residents, a 49 percent occupancy rate.
“So if you were to put this on a bar graph, (you would) see there is no pattern,” said Gomes. “However, what happened between 2016 and 2017 is that we significantly reduced the rental rate in ‘Alahonua, which we believe led to that increase from 148 to 205.”
Part of the $28 million project was funded with a 30-year, $17 million revenue bond, to be paid back through money generated from housing fees, the Tribune-Herald previously reported.
But Hale Alahonua, a 300-bed, suite-style dormitory, has struggled to fill all its beds since opening. Occupancy was 57 percent that first year and dipped as low as 39 percent in 2015.
Housing officials last year introduced a plan to increase occupancy by lowering the cost to live in the dorm and to better market on-campus housing, the Tribune-Herald reported at that time.
The plan aimed to boost its occupancy by 90 additional students by the 2019-20 school year, to be met through incremental targets each year.
At the time those goals were set, Gomes said the university was projecting a conservative increase in enrollment, which hasn’t happened this year.
However, prior to last year, she said the percentage of the total student population living on campus was 19 percent, but both this year and last year that total is 21 percent.
That’s important, she said, because while enrollment has declined “the percentage of students that choose to live on campus has increased or remained stable from last year, basically, which tells us that the percentage of students that live in the dorms is increasing, despite declining enrollment.”
Gomes said the university is “still committed to the proposal” submitted to and approved by the UH Board of Regents in June 2017.
A decline in enrollment this semester was “unexpected and we will make adjustments to our plan because we are still committed to the outcomes we set forth in that plan.”
Because of the low occupancy in the past, the school previously had to subsidize its annual revenue bond payments used to help finance Hale Alahonua’s construction with additional housing funds from its reserves.
According to the UH-Hilo website, current housing rates, per semester and without dining plans, range from $1,772 to $3,377, depending on location and occupancy.