As universities across the U.S. weigh whether to reopen campuses for the fall semester, some schools are eyeing the use of hotel guestrooms as a safer and social distancing-friendly alternative to crowded dorms.

“According to local news reports, Tulane University in New Orleans and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo., are among those considering hotel rooms for students in need of single-occupancy lodging. Northern Colorado is also reportedly looking into using hotel conference rooms as potential classroom space. Likewise, Boston’s Northeastern University has said it is exploring the use of hotels as the school plans to “expand student housing into new buildings and communities to reduce residential density.”

Though specifics regarding these plans remain fluid, Nancy Mitchell, a restructuring partner at the New York office of law firm O’Melveny & Myers, which is advising higher education clients on risk management under its colleges and universities practice, said hotels could certainly play a key role in allowing students to come back to campus safely.

“Colleges and universities have a need for more rooms, fewer shared bathrooms and less common space,” Mitchell said. “And when we think about how college towns are set up, we know there tends to be a fair bit of hotel stock in many areas where these schools are located. Hotels are looking for ways to conserve cash and address their issues of no to very low occupancy right now, so we think it’s a natural match.”

It also wouldn’t be the first time colleges have tapped hotels as student housing, added Mitchell. New York University, for example, has previously relied on hotels to solve student housing shortages, though such measures are typically stopgaps. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mitchell predicts schools will be more interested in inking longer-term, one- or two-year lease agreements.

“I think everybody now realizes that this is going to be a longer-term situation than we maybe originally thought when the shutdown first happened,” Mitchell said.”

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