Among the most basic of services offered by fraternities and sororities is a house to come back to at the end of the day.

But an elaborate shuffle of Greek chapters moving in and out of campus houses, complicated further by strict city zoning laws and the limited number of houses in the area that can accommodate such big groups, has made offering that most simple of needs for brothers and sisters a challenge for leaders of the Greek community.

When Alpha Epsilon Phi and Sigma Chi were allowed to make their returns to campus, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Sigma Phi Epsilon, respectively, were sent looking for a new property to call home. The two displaced chapters had been living in houses owned by the two returning chapters while they were kicked off campus.

Blake Toll, vice president of public relations for the Interfraternity Council, said two main factors make it difficult for fraternities to secure housing.

First, Toll said that the fact that not very many houses on campus can accommodate all the members of a fraternity or a sorority makes finding a house tricky.

“I don’t want it to come off as a shortage,” Toll said. “A number of chapters don’t own their own houses and they’re living in houses owned by other chapters. At the moment, some fraternities are moving because their leases are running out.”

Toll said that a common practice in the Greek community is when chapters leave the University, if they own a house, they keep the house as an investment, and rent it to other chapters. This is the case with the chapters that left campus but are now returning to the University, like Sigma Chi.

“They kept ownership of the houses so that when they come back to campus, they have a house,” Toll said.

To further complicate matters, the city also makes it difficult for large groups to acquire facilities that are big enough.

“The city of Ann Arbor has housing ordinances on group housing in which the houses have to request for an exemption,” Toll said. “It is not easy to qualify for a facility or house that you want.”

Chris Haughee, the assistant director of the University’s Office of Greek Life, said the city’s ordinance on group housing requires fraternities and sororities seeking group housing to apply for a special exemption to the city’s zoning laws.

This process becomes more complicated if a house doesn’t make use of the special housing ordinance for a period of two years. If this happens, the house must then re-apply to the zoning board for the special exemption, which is very difficult, Haughee said.

“You have to be in the right zoning classification with the special exemption use and there are a specific number of houses,” Haughee said. “You have to have a dual battle to get it properly zoned.”

Because of the complexity of this process, Haughee said that if a chapter is seeking housing, it is easiest for them to rent a house from another chapter, especially if the house has already received the special exemption use from the city.

“Clearly if you’re a fraternity and you don’t have housing, if that house is available, frankly we would encourage it when they lease to other fraternities and sororities on campus, so we keep it property zoned and available to the community,” Haughee said.

Despite this complication, several chapters, including Alpha Epsilon Pi, which was able to find a house that already had the special exemption use for group housing, have managed to find permanent housing that suits the chapter’s long-term needs. Some have even turned to finding properties that are outside of the houses already owned by Greek chapters.

For the past four years, AEPi was living in a house on the corner of Church Street and Hill Street, owned by Alpha Epsilon Phi, a sorority that’s returning to campus in the fall.

Adam London, president of AEPi, said that faced with the prospect of being without a home, AEPi decided to buy a permanent house after getting funding from its national organization.

“We currently have permanent housing in a large house – formerly a professional fraternity — on Geddes (Avenue),” London said. “We are now fortunate enough to be one of the only houses on campus who actually own our house.”

London said that AEPi, which moved into its permanent residence on 1912 Geddes Ave. at the end of last semester, is an example of a fraternity that had a successful conclusion to its search for housing, despite the challenge of being the largest chapter on campus.

“Ann Arbor is a unique college town in that there is not much room, if any, to build new, large houses near campus,” London said. “I can say, however, that the outlook for fraternities, especially in regard to securing housing solutions is nothing but optimistic.”

While this shuffling of houses within the Greek community often creates stress for chapters with expiring leases, Toll said that the seven to eight houses owned by other chapters or different organizations, knew exactly what they were getting into when they rented their houses.

“There are some houses that rent and lease from other organizations. It is like any rent agreement,” Toll said. “The houses had advance notice.”

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