Editorial: Finding room

As the total student population at the University, currently at 40,670, rose by more than 4,000 in the past decade, much has been said about the effects on class sizes, declining student accessibility to professors, exacerbation of traffic jams and lack of parking in Campustown. But the drastic increase in the size of the student body exposes the current and future students of the University with a far more pressing issue: increasing scarcity of housing on and near campus.

It is no secret that more and more incoming freshmen who have applied for housing through the University Residence Halls have been placed in temporary rooms. There has been tremendous pressure on University housing officials to find room for the new students, who must live in the dorms or in a private certified housing facility for the first year.

Although the total capacity of all University housing, at approximately 8,500, has not changed dramatically in the recent years, the size of the freshmen class has. The Class of 2009, who have just arrived on campus less than two months ago, is 8,120 strong.

While about 25 percent of the freshmen class ends up living in a private certified housing facility, the total capacity for such housing is only 2,497. Even if every single private certified facility was to be filled by freshmen, that would still leave the University with approximately 71 percent of the freshman class, or 6,003 students, who are looking for a place to sleep. According to University Housing, about 40 percent of students living in the dorms end up re-signing a contract in any given year. The number game simply doesn’t work.

Many freshmen are living in converted lounges with as many as five roommates with no word about where they might end up; dozens of transfer students have also been unfortunate casualties. Students like Greg Wormley, junior in ALS, had their housing contracts canceled in the summer and scrambled to find an apartment. Moving to a new environment can be an overwhelming experience in itself. Having to sift through classifieds and make call after call to landlords a couple of months beforethe start of the school year certainly doesn’t help.

In September, the Board of Trustees approved a plan to renovate the Champaign Residence Halls, better known as the Six-Pack. But the reconstruction will not add to the total housing capacity. While pushing back the deadline for canceling University housing contracts for non-freshmen will help lessen the load, the University must move to address the problems. Building new dorms will certainly help, but that will not solve any of the current problems.

It would be sensible to clamp down on the size of the freshmen class and loosen the housing restrictions thereby allowing them to live in apartments if a sibling or friend happens to be a University student and is willing to room with them.

The University should also try to reserve dormitory housing for transfer students. Many of them choose to live in the dorms because it is the fastest way of getting to know new people and adjust to the campus. If that is not possible, there should be a better effort from University housing officials to help transfer students find a place to live in.

But the most troubling aspect of the housing situation is the effects of increasing student population on the off-campus housing market. As more and more students will inevitably seek to leave the dorms for the comforts of having their own kitchen and living room, it will become increasingly difficult to find adequate housing. The University should recognize the harms of continuous expansion of the student body on the housing market from which the majority of the student population find their homes for the school year. Volatility in the rental prices just might break the already strained backs of many students and parents coping with the rising costs of education.