Since learning earlier this month most housing contracts for residence halls will be canceled for the winter semester to keep as many people as possible off campus, freshmen have been struggling to make accommodations.
In an email sent on Nov. 6, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel outlined the expected changes for the semester.
“To reduce density in our residence halls, undergraduates who don’t need to be on campus should remain at their permanent residences for the semester and study remotely,” Schlissel wrote. “U-M Housing will move exclusively to single-room occupancy.”
Since then, students currently in dorms have been scrambling to find off-campus housing for next semester, mostly through subleases starting in January.
LSA freshman Sophie Steinberg said the sudden news sparked intense competition in the local housing market.
“I ended up getting an apartment with my friends, but that was a really hectic process because places were constantly being signed off on,” Steinberg said. “You would call a realtor and ask to look somewhere because it was available online but then they’d call you back and say, ‘Oh, that just signed,’ and that happened to us multiple times.”
This was more difficult for students who had already left due to the two-week stay at home order issued in late October.
LSA freshman Dora Usdan, who moved back home earlier in November, plans to live in an off-campus apartment next semester with her roommate.
“But we just had to sign the lease on an apartment that we’d never seen before because we’re not in Ann Arbor,” Usdan said. “It was really stressful because even as I was on the phone with real estate agents, I’d be looking at a property and the agent would say, ‘Someone just signed that lease 30 seconds ago in my office, it’s gone.’”
Many students left during the stay-in-place order because they were offered partial housing refunds if they moved out by Nov. 3.
LSA freshman Sara Stawarz was one of them. She said she didn’t expect the situation in Ann Arbor to change so rapidly while she was gone.
“It’s been kind of stressful because I left with the knowledge that I would be coming back next semester and that this wouldn’t be the last that I’d see of my friends until August, which is the situation now,” Stawarz said.
For some out-of-state students, leaving early during the two-week stay-in-place period has left them in a difficult situation now that they cannot return to their dorms next semester.
The University has recommended two options: returning to campus to empty out their rooms themselves, or hiring John’s Pack & Ship moving company at a minimum cost of $500 to do it for them and mail or store the belongings.
In an email to The Michigan Daily, University Housing spokesperson Amir Baghdadchi wrote students are allowed to sign up for a time slot to return to campus and pack up their belongings. The dates for move out range between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6. If necessary, students may also move out after Dec. 6 and before the start of winter semester if arranged ahead of time with University Housing.
“We understand moving out can be a challenge, and we’re ready to be flexible and offer students options,” Baghdadchi said.
LSA freshman Nadir Gerber is at his permanent residence in California and reached out to Housing to explain his predicament.
“I did mention that I was in California so it wasn’t feasible for me to come out and pick things up from my dorm and their first recommendation was that I come out and pick things up from the dorm myself,” Gerber said. “I am potentially looking at flying back out to Michigan and just getting everything myself, but doing that while I’m still trying to attend class is not only a huge financial commitment but also really gets in the way of my schooling.”
Usdan, who had moved back home to New York, said this was an unreasonable expectation for students and their families, saying students essentially have two choices: “Com(ing) back with their parents who are more at risk to pick up their stuff or paying a really high fee.”
“That’s super inconvenient and they didn’t tell me to move out all my stuff when I left Oct. 24,” Usdan said.
Baghdadchi also wrote that students are able to authorize someone to pick up their belongings on their behalf if they are unable to do so themselves. He wrote that the best option for some students may be to use a third party to pack, store or ship items, and they are able to use John’s Pack & Ship to do so.
Students who want to remain in the residence halls next semester can apply for an exception. Stawarz said she felt the space allotted to tell the University why she should stay was insufficient to get the message across.
“I had to write them in 500 characters or less, why for my mental health I should go back,” Stawarz said. “It was so hard to get the full scope of the issue in 500 characters, and I genuinely am afraid that they won’t take me back.”
Several students have expressed disappointment with the University’s response to COVID-19 this semester, attributing the closing of the residence halls to a lack of preparedness and a shortage of testing availability.
Stawarz said she wishes the University had tested more students earlier in the semester before the stay-in-place order was implemented.
“It’s pretty disappointing, especially knowing that all of this could’ve been prevented if they had just done weekly testing. They let it go way too far and only implemented these things when it was unimaginable for them to not do so,” Stawarz said.
As part of the University’s plan for the winter semester, testing capacity will be increased to about 12,000 to 15,000 tests per week. According to the plan, students living in University Housing or participating in on-campus activities in winter 2021 will also be tested on a regular basis.
Over the summer, the University’s Board of Regents voted to increase tuition and increase room and board fees by 1.9% in the 2020-2021 budget, despite receiving backlash from the campus community for raising tuition during a global pandemic. This was in response to a projected University budget deficit due to COVID-19.
Other students said they were more concerned about the prospect of paying full tuition for the winter semester while going to school online and living at home. LSA freshman Yitzi Zolty said he wonders what students are paying for when the capacity for campus learning is so limited.
“I doubt this was a decision that was made overnight — there’s nothing wrong with full transparency,” Zolty said. “I think the main thing, at least on my mind, is that we’re still paying full tuition as out-of-state students, and part of their spending plan is to upkeep facilities. But if none of those are going to be in use, why are we paying so much?”
Daily Staff Reporter Hannah Mackay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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