From The Daily: Make housing less stressful

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - 5:11pm

Fall term brings a familiar struggle back to students: the scramble to get a group of friends together, the hours scouring the internet or taking to the streets to find that perfect house or apartment, the scraping together of money for a security deposit. Then, once everything is in place, they arrive at the leasing office only to find out that house has already been reserved for the upcoming school year. They thought they were being proactive. After all, school just started a few weeks ago. This is not a new phenomenon — the housing search has been an immense source of stress for students for years. The Michigan Daily Editorial Board believes students and Ann Arbor City Council must work in tandem to improve housing policies to lessen stress for students.

Among the many worries students face upon their arrival to campus, none hits harder than the race to find housing before all future leases are sucked away. City ordinances require Ann Arbor landlords to honor a 70-day grace period at the start of the lease period, during which landlords are not allowed to show properties or give out housing contracts to prospective renters.

The lack of time pressures students into locking themselves into a lease that is out of budget, since there is often little time in a student’s schedule for rigorous price hunting. This “running race” for housing can be particularly unfair for low-income students who don’t have the luxury to wait in long leasing office lines.

On top of economic considerations, housing has social implications. This issue is particularly salient for freshmen, who might not have a solid group of friends in the first few weeks of school. Freshmen often find themselves wondering if their budding relationships will last long enough to ensure a stress-free living situation with a group they aren’t quite sure will stay together.

These problems are due in part to the fact that many leasing companies and landlords neglect to follow the regulation in the first place. According to a 2015 Michigan Daily interview with Ann Arbor property manager Jon Keller, the penalty fee for violating the 70-day rule is negligible to landlords who generate larger profits and often is not even enforced. Many landlords further bypass this regulation through reservation systems. This makes an already-competitive housing season even less forgiving, as properties are scooped up off the market before many students even consider their housing situation for the next year.

The city can begin to address this housing anxiety by legitimizing the 70-day rule. This would require upping the penalty fee to a price that has some teeth and enforcing it. If landlords can no longer ignore the costs incurred by violating the city code, students would be given space to breathe in those 70 days. At the very least, the housing hunt would become a more even playing field for first-year students.

Ann Arbor’s new revenue from the increased fee could also be funneled into a subsidy program for low-income students to better afford housing. With some clever political maneuvering and activism from students, the Editorial Board believes Ann Arbor City Council can agree on a fine that preserves the integrity of the law while ensuring businesses remain incentivized to provide housing services for the city.

For most students, the housing process is a negative, anxiety-provoking experience. There is almost a consensus that finding an apartment or house is expensive and risky, especially when only freshmen are guaranteed spots in University of Michigan housing. The Editorial Board believes the most effective way to bring about change is through the Ann Arbor city government. Students should direct their frustrations to elections, to town halls, to petitioning what vexes them. City Council needs to know this is a top priority for students, who make up a substantial portion of Ann Arbor’s population. With this knowledge, it can begin to work to lower leasing costs and create a more productive system.

The housing issue is complex, with fault on students and City Council alike. The lethargy seen among undergraduates is key to why nothing changes; however, City Council is to blame for deprioritizing an issue that affects a great percentage of Ann Arbor’s population. The best course of action is for students to step up and push City Council to consider the issue past the surface level. Building these relationships will be integral to instituting tangible change to make housing more affordable and less stressful to find.

Do you love to debate today’s important issues? Do you want your voice heard? We hold twice-weekly Editorial Board meetings at our newsroom at 420 Maynard St. in Ann Arbor, where we discuss local, state and national issues relevant to campus. We meet Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

Learn more about how to join Edit Board here.