Date July 22, 2021
Media Contact

Brown acquires residential building to offer affordable, high-quality housing for 270 graduate students

The University will transition River House, home to a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments in the Jewelry District, to affordable, safe, campus-accessible housing for graduate students.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Through a subsidiary named River House Holdings, LLC, Brown University has purchased River House, a 174-unit residential building completed by commercial developers in 2019 and located at 1 Point Street in Providence, and will transition the complex into housing for Brown graduate and medical students.

The University acquired the housing development through a subsidiary to ensure no disruption to the continuity of River House’s tax revenue to the City of Providence, while also supporting Brown’s academic goals of advancing the campus-centered educational experience of students in graduate and medical programs. 

With the capacity to house 270 students in a mix of 174 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, the building will address a need expressed directly for years by Brown graduate students seeking affordable, high-quality housing options in proximity to the University’s campus, according to Provost Richard M. Locke. Brown plans to adapt River House’s current rental fee structure, which was developed for a commercial rental market, to align closer to the needs of graduate and medical students. To develop an affordable, equitable rental rate structure for student housing in River House, Brown has launched a working group to complete a full review of rental rates and amenities across Brown-owned graduate student housing.

“The addition of River House to our campus housing portfolio responds directly to the need among graduate students for high-quality, safe, affordable housing with easy access to classroom and laboratory buildings both on College Hill and in the Jewelry District,” Locke said. “This space will meet the unique living needs of master’s, incoming Ph.D. and medical students in particular, offering a residential option close to campus that will enrich their connections to the broader Brown community.”

 The acquisition will advance Brown’s commitment to increasing its student housing inventory while helping to alleviate the impact that the demand for off-campus rental units has upon local neighborhoods in Providence. The University closed on the purchase of River House on Thursday, July 22.

Russell C. Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy, said purchasing River House adds to a growing series of Brown investments in Providence’s Jewelry District. The University has invested more than $225 million in district development over the last decade, with projects including South Street Landing and the Innovation Center at 225 Dyer St. attracting new partners to Rhode Island and bringing new life to a neighborhood where roughly 1,600 Brown faculty, students and staff work, teach and conduct research daily.

While it was ultimately built by private developers GMH Communities and Wexford Science & Technology, the River House complex has its roots in Brown’s early vision for fueling economic development in the Jewelry District.

“The earliest conversations about the potential to revitalize the abandoned South Street Landing power plant started as Brown explored options to create graduate student housing,” Carey said. “A robust public-private partnership turned SSL into the anchor location that it has become, and River House followed as private housing two years later. In many ways, the opportunity to now dedicate River House for graduate student housing feels like a full-circle moment and another key milestone in the rebirth of this long-overlooked neighborhood.” 

By forming a wholly owned subsidiary — River House Holdings, LLC — and executing the purchase of River House through the subsidiary, Brown will directly assume the tax stabilization agreement (TSA) in place with the property’s current owner. Carey said that through River House Holdings, Brown will inherit the existing TSA in full and that creating the subsidiary offered the best way to fully honor existing property tax commitments to the city. This ensures the continuity of tax revenue without disruption.  

Over time, the University will fully transition the building from private leases — which are currently held by a mix of Brown students and renters unaffiliated with the University — to Brown-managed housing agreements for students. All existing leases will be honored, and Brown will maintain retail space in the building for commercial use by the existing tenants.

“ It is an amazing gift to be able to solve the challenge of affordable graduate student housing by buying a building that is almost the same as what we would have built ourselves during a much longer, more costly and complex process. ”

John Luipold Vice President for Real Estate and Strategic Initiatives

Meeting a need in the graduate student community

Each River House apartment unit features amenities — kitchen appliances, wireless internet and a washing machine and dryer — and will be fully furnished. In multiple-occupancy units, bedrooms are secured with personal key fobs to allow for added privacy. Student residents will also have access to an array of common areas, including a gym, rooftop patios, two business centers with printer access, a conference room and a lobby that includes couches, a coffee bar and other features. 

By elevating the quantity and quality of Brown’s graduate student housing options, River House will bolster the University’s ability to attract and support highly talented master’s, doctoral and medical students from across the world, said Dean of the Graduate School Andrew G. Campbell.

Living Room and Kitchen, River House
Each apartment unit in River House includes amenities, including kitchen appliances, wireless internet and a washing machine and dryer.

“Graduate students are students, researchers and teachers who are instrumental in advancing Brown’s academic mission,” Campbell said. “Being able to offer high-quality, affordable housing in a location that is steps away from local amenities and a quick shuttle ride to College Hill offers a major step forward in providing a world-class experience that extends beyond classrooms and laboratories and into the campus and greater community.”

When the opportunity to purchase River House emerged, the University already had years of research on how best to meet the need for affordable graduate and medical student housing. That included the results of a pre-feasibility study conducted after the Graduate Student Council included housing as a major area of focus in a 2020 action plan for strengthening the graduate student experience at Brown.

Currently, the University provides auxiliary housing units that can serve 80 graduate students each year, roughly 2.5% of the total graduate and medical student population of approximately 3,100 students, with the remaining students securing housing in neighboring communities. But in surveys conducted by the Graduate School and the Graduate Student Council, doctoral and master’s degree students have reported increasing difficulty finding affordable housing in close proximity to campus. For some, this has led them to extend their searches to neighborhoods that are inconvenient or inaccessible to campus via the campus shuttle and public transportation. For others, it has spurred a need to seek external employment to meet the cost of living.

Bedroom, River House
Apartment units in River House will be fully furnished.


Those challenges are particularly acute for first-year doctoral and master’s students — and especially for the 37% of graduate students who come to Brown from outside the United States, said Leah VanWey, dean of the School of Professional Studies.

“One of the biggest challenges for students first arriving in Providence is being unfamiliar with the city and with the process of finding an apartment — both challenges are made even harder for students arriving from abroad,” she said. “You have so much else to worry about during the transition to graduate student life, from finding your classes to working with your professors and finding your lab. You don’t want to add worries about how to navigate the local housing market and get your new apartment running, too.”

The acquisition of River House promises to address these challenges, VanWey said. 

“River House will offer a safe, secure, affordable and easy landing spot for graduate students experiencing these various challenges,” she said. “Having these fully equipped and furnished apartments will ease the transition process and also ensure that people can enter a secure living situation when they arrive at Brown.”

Alastair Tulloch, a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience and past president of the Graduate Student Council, agreed.

“The council had heard for a long time that the quality of housing around campus is deteriorating at the same time as costs are increasing,” Tulloch said. “Having Brown provide graduate students with an affordable housing option that’s also higher quality than much of what is currently available to them is going to drastically improve the lives of the graduate students who get to live there.”

And, with attractive shared living spaces that will enable residents to engage in impromptu conversation and community programming, River House will also deepen community and inspire collaboration among graduate students across departments, said Tulloch.

“As graduate students, we can often feel siloed within our departments — especially when we’re also living far from campus or alone,” he said. “This shared living space will help graduate students form meaningful relationships with each other across many disciplines, which will enrich both the quality of our personal lives and also our academic pursuits.”

 Vanessa Ryan, associate dean of student development at Brown’s Graduate School, said the availability of River House apartments will offer greater convenience, enhance “work-life” balance for students and amplify their contributions to teaching and research on campus.

“Having Brown-managed graduate student housing is a key cornerstone to giving our Ph.D. and master’s students the opportunity to fully participate in Brown's vibrant campus life,” she said. “It's a significant investment in the graduate student community and the importance of graduate education to Brown’s mission.”

“The [Graduate Student Council] had heard for a long time that the quality of housing around campus is deteriorating at the same time as costs are increasing. Having Brown provide graduate students with an affordable housing option that’s also higher quality than much of what is currently available to them is going to drastically improve the lives of the graduate students who get to live there.”

Alastair Tulloch Ph.D. Candidate in Neuroscience, Graduate Student Council Past President
Alastair Tulloch

Dr. Allan R. Tunkel, senior associate dean for medical education at the Warren Alpert Medical School, said medical students will see similar benefits.

“Medical students face the same difficulties finding affordable housing as other graduate students, with the added complications of clinical rotations,” Tunkel said. “River House is situated between the medical school building and a number of our major teaching hospitals, making it an ideal location for medical students to live.”  

John Luipold, vice president for real estate and strategic initiatives, said that compared to the long-term possibility of new residence hall construction, River House presented a more timely, cost-efficient opportunity to meet all of the major housing needs that Brown’s research identified — including the optimum occupancy, location, and types of layouts and amenities that would best serve this unique population of students.

 “It is an amazing gift to be able to solve the challenge of affordable graduate student housing by buying a building that is almost the same as what we would have built ourselves during a much longer, more costly and complex process,” Luipold said.

Following completion of the University’s purchase, the private real estate company GMH Communities will continue to serve as property manager for River House as Brown begins a longer-term transition to full student housing.