The exploitation of a loophole in Ann Arbor’s new lease-date ordinance is a perfect example of how well-meaning attempts to improve student life can be thwarted by a lack of information. The joint Michigan Student Assembly-City Council committee drafted the ordinance in hopes to relieve students of the chaos of the fall housing rush. However, a clause that allows landlords to “request” that their tenants sign a waiver allowing them to begin showing houses and signing leases before the required 90-day waiting period defeats the purpose of the ordinance. The Ann Arbor City Council must close this loophole, but a real solution to the housing rush students face in Ann Arbor will require more than a reworded legal document.
Although the 90-day waiting period only temporarily alleviates the housing problem, closing the loophole would at least give first-year students a three-month foundation for the budding social networks that will make up next year’s living arrangements. However, a December date for lease signing coincides with final exams – adding more stress to an already stress-ridden process. When revising the lease-date ordinance, City Council should push signing dates into January – after the first-semester tumult of adjusting to University life has subsided.
However, a significant barrier to dissipating the fall housing rush is the student body itself. Collective ignorance of the 90-day ordinance calls for housing-related education on campus. MSA needs to make students aware of the purpose of the ordinance, the nature of the loophole and the importance of student – and landlord – cooperation. Education, however, is not enough. Even if students and landlords manage to uphold the spirit of the ordinance, the dizzying challenge of finding housing near campus in a tight, overpriced market still remains.
Ultimately, University Housing will need to respond to the pent-up demand for centrally located housing that off-campus housing fails to satisfy. The defection of upperclassmen from dorms to off-campus housing reflects fundamental flaws in the University’s housing philosophy – flaws that a few new buildings and an updated model for student housing can fix. Although plans for the construction of North Quad are underway, the inability of University-owned housing to respond to demand for affordable, modern housing in the vicinity of Central Campus drives students away.
The “institutional” style of existing dorms does not bind the University to the designs of the past. The University should provide more desirable, modern living arrangements – such as apartments or suite-style dorms designed to accommodate larger groups than the typical Markley double – for students tired of asylum-style halls and cement-walled rooms. Keeping more upperclassmen within the dorm system will relieve some of the pressure on both the housing market and on freshmen who are undoubtedly worried about living arrangements for the following year.