As we’ve entered October, I’m sure everyone’s settling into their apartments, houses and dorms. But don’t feel too settled, because now’s the time that you really need to think about housing.
Simply put, a student’s search for housing in Ann Arbor is ridiculous. Not only are housing prices unreasonable relative to what students at other colleges pay, but the process of finding housing contains an unreasonable number of traps and difficulties.
The process’s stress stems from issues explained by basic economics. A culmination of factors — including the renovations in large student housing facilities like South Quad and West Quad, a consistent increase in admitted students and off-campus housing reaching or exceeding capacity — has created an excess demand that the housing supply struggles to meet. With so many students looking for housing, tenants in convenient locations can charge higher prices and expect students to sign leases in October or November.
The expectation of signing a lease in October or November can lead to serious issues. You’ve lived in your current housing for a month or two, so you really haven’t lived with your housemates or roommates long enough to know whether your living styles are similar. But you don’t have the time to see how things play out. If you’re even considering living with them, you have to immediately look into the possibility of living with them next year. If they’re down, that’s great, and you can renew your lease or find new housing and pray that you’ll live well together for the next two years. However, this doesn’t always happen, and sometimes your roommates want different housing experiences or already realize your living situation isn’t suitable. This would be stressful in any circumstance, but you don’t really have time to think your other options through. You only really have three weeks before all your friends solidify their plans, so you have to scramble and accept any housing offer you find — even if it’s one that you don’t want.
This isn’t even taking into consideration how much relationships can change in a year. If you sign an August-to-August lease in October, you have 11 months until you live with those people. Eleven months of time can have a pretty significant impact on a person’s social life. You could very well realize in January or February that you would have preferred to live with other people, particularly if you’re a freshman or sophomore who immediately signed a lease with people you barely know.
But let’s just assume that you find the right people to live with next year. Now you can actually begin your housing search. However, this is by no means a period of leisurely searching options to determine your best fit. You have at most a month and a half to decide where you want to live, so your search turns into a rabid hunt to find a place that you don’t hate, is located somewhere you want to live and falls within your budget.
Unfortunately, you’re not the only person in your living group, and each individual has different preferences. These people are your friends, though, so you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and you also don’t want to say anything that would remove you from the group. These issues obviously arise in any housing situation, but the higher-priced student housing in Ann Arbor coupled with the expectation of signing a lease so soon elevates the need to find something — whether it’s perfect or just OK.
These issues are significant, and I think the University should be advocating for changes in leasing policies to alleviate the situation. No, the University cannot do anything to guarantee that housing will be effortless, but it could fight for regulations if it really cared about students’ well-being. Codes exist in Ann Arbor that prohibit renters from allowing anyone to sign a lease or view housing until 70 days after current leasers have lived in the property. However, landlords can allow unattended viewing of housing units and force students to sign pre-lease agreements in order to sidestep these codes. Furthermore, with the options of May-to-May leases, some renters don’t need to sidestep the policies and can immediately find students to sign a lease within the first weeks of school. Rules should be developed to stop these sidestepping policies. The University should advocate to the Ann Arbor City Council for a 100-day period as opposed to the current 70-day policy. Additionally, rules should exist to prohibit students from touring or signing May-to-May leases until Dec. 15. These policies would allow students to sign leases during mid-December at the earliest. Coupled with exams and Winter Break, students would likely not be able to sign a lease until they return for second semester. Having all of first semester to brainstorm housing groups would give students an opportunity to make informed and intelligent decisions. This could also decrease housing prices as landlords may lower rent to attract more students given that they have less time for students to sign leases.
This policy change would also be optimal as second semester is around the time that the University opens up the process for on-campus housing, allowing students to realistically consider both possibilities. As it is now, if a student chooses to live on-campus for the following year, they take a risk because if they don’t get housing, the off-campus market is essentially drained.
Going to Michigan already entails numerous responsibilities. Students struggle juggling school, organizations and their social life. With all of these issues going on, housing should be the least of students’ concerns, but nevertheless remains one. This is my third year of experiencing an unreasonable amount of housing stress coupled with hearing about how all my friends are stressed out. And from what I hear, this isn’t something that students at schools with more relaxed housing markets experience.
After spending six years renovating on-campus facilities without making efforts to alleviate the extra students in the off-campus market, I hope that the University (or some force with political clout) makes an effort to alleviate some of these issues.
Michael Schramm can be reached at email@example.com.