The Accolade on Chestnut, Penn’s newest housing option for graduate students, opened on Aug. 18 following a $94 million renovation by a private developer.
The new property replaced Sansom Place East on the corner of 36th and Chestnut streets, a formerly University-owned housing option for graduate students, which closed in April 2022. Greystar, an international development and property management company, now owns and operates the building.
The new property has room for 588 residents, who are offered 12-month installment leases for studio and two-bedroom apartments, ranging from $1,240 to $1,590. According to Greystar’s press release, the property is at 100% capacity for the fall. The units are prefurnished with private bathrooms and laundry facilities. The building includes a fitness center, lounges, kitchens, and study rooms.
Douglas Berger, the senior executive director of business services at Penn, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the decision to redevelop the property resulted from a low number of residences in the Sansom towers. According to Berger, the influx of private housing developments around University City drew graduate students away from the on-campus options. Over the last few years, he said they only saw 80% occupancy in the towers, which is less than 3% of Penn’s total graduate student population.
The decision to renovate was in part a result of input from the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, according to Business Services Director of Communication and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger. Lea-Kruger explained that her team worked with GAPSA to conduct various focus groups and surveys with graduate students, all of which informed the final choice.
“What we heard from graduate students was that they wanted more efficient apartments — bathroom, kitchen, laundry,” Lea-Kruger said. “If we would have renovated internally, we would have just renovated as-is, and that’s not a product that students wanted.”
Lea-Kruger also mentioned that although their research suggested that most graduate students desired off-campus housing in different areas of the city, Penn wanted to target the specific demographic of students who preferred University City.
“There’s a very wide range of opinion with graduate students, much more than undergrad,” she said. “We knew there were some graduate students that would not be interested, but there was a niche that we felt we could respond to.”
Previously, the DP reported that Penn is the only Ivy League university not to offer on-campus housing exclusively for graduate students after the closure of Sansom Place West at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.
In March, now-former GAPSA Executive Board members told the DP that they were concerned about an increase in the price of on-campus housing, noting that the price per square foot of the Accolade was significantly more expensive than other comparable private housing options. In October 2022, Greystar has previously faced a lawsuit for an allegedly predatory pricing strategy.
However, recently elected GAPSA President Michael Krone, a second year University of Pennsylvania Carey Law student, told the DP that he did not share these fears, observing that the Accolade prices seem to be reasonable. Krone said he views the Accolade as a beneficial addition to Penn’s graduate housing.
According to Ed Datz, the executive director of real estate with Facilities and Real Estate Services, Penn worked with Greystar to target prices to the lower range of housing costs in the area.
“A majority of the products in West Philadelphia are more market rate, and the Accolade is a little below market rate,” Datz said. “Of course, you can still find cheaper housing, but you might not want to live there. It’s all relative to the product and the location.”
Current residents of the Accolade found the apartment complex to be a cost-saving alternative to other private apartments.
“I really like it because I got my own space and my own washer, dryer, everything,” said Estelle Hu, a second-year data science master's student. “And I like how it’s much cheaper compared to a lot of apartments out there.”
However, while Hu appreciates having her own space and the amenities in the Accolade, she has been frustrated by the backlog in the mail room.
Christian Mastroianni, a first year student at the School of Dental Medicine, echoed Hu's sentiments.
“It’s been stressful so far,” Mastriani said. “Right now, the mail room is kind of a mess — you have to shuffle through everything to find a package. I needed a stethoscope for one of my classes, and I was getting worried it wouldn’t come in time.”
Mastriani also noted other issues with the Accolade’s facilities, including clogged garbage chutes, disorganized boxes, and malfunctioning dryers that were installed incorrectly in the units.
“I’m a little disappointed,” he said. “They knew students were moving in on the 18th, and I would think they would be a little more prepared to have everything in the proper condition by then.”
In response to these issues, Datz commented that they fall under the responsibility of Greystar’s management team, but that he would look into it. Greystar did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
In response to a request for comment, a Greystar representative said that “there were some delays with mail and packages when the building first opened, but the systems contracted to manage those tasks are either now operational or will soon be installed.”