With the housing situation on campus causing a rush to sign leases every fall term, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje recently announced a plan to push back lease-signing dates. The housing rush starts earlier each year and has become so detrimental to students that a city ordinance is a necessary solution. While the recent commitment to later leasing dates by Hieftje may appear to be the solution students have been waiting for, any plan will be ineffective if he doesn’t account for practical loopholes around the ordinance and does not coordinate it with lease dates for on-campus University housing. Taking an active stand on the housing issue is an easy way to gain political popularity, but the issue is much too important to be shuffled around between committees until the next election. The city of Ann Arbor, the University and its students should demand action on this proposal in time for the 2005-06 school year.
As any freshman knows, arriving at the University, starting classes and worrying about midterm blue book exams is plenty to occupy the first half of fall semester. Unfortunately, these new students also have to decide where and with whom they want to live the following year. Students are frequently forced into living with friends from high school or people they barely know.
Students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison faced a similar situation until a city ordinance adopted in 2000 barred landlords from showing a property until one-third of the lease was up. With some revisions, the ordinance has been effective in curbing the housing rush in Madison. This success in another Big Ten college town proves that city ordinances can be positive solutions to student housing problems.
An Ann Arbor ordinance would be most beneficial if it coordinated the lease signing date with the time students re-apply to live in the dorms. Freshmen will be able to make a more informed decision about whether to return to the dorms for a second year once freed from the housing rush in October. A coordinated lease-signing date with on-campus options on that table will open up options for students, releasing pressure on the market and slowing the yearly rise of prices. Additionally, with more time to educate students on their housing rights, landlords will be unable to continue the unfair housing practices which plague the market today.
In order to alleviate student concerns, Hieftje has considered allowing students who want to lease before winter semester to do so. Such a broad loophole would make the ordinance essentially moot. Not all students would want to lease early, but those who do would take the best housing, creating concern within the student body and starting the early rush again. The legitimate concerns of students who plan to study abroad during the winter semester can be easily solved by allowing those studying abroad to have a designated person, like a parent, sign the new lease for them.
Although many technical aspects will need to be worked out with legal consultation, a city ordinance is a very real solution to a very real problem. Hieftje now needs to work with the City Council to ensure this ordinance is not affected by the bureaucratic delays that have plagued implementation of the Greenbelt. Next year’s freshmen will be able study for their first midterms without also trying to find roommates and a house they can afford. Blue books alone are stressful enough.