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Long lines and short deadlines; students scramble for off-campus housing

The Shortbread Lofts are located at 333 W Rosemary St.

On an early September morning, a line of students wrapped around the building at Shortbread Lofts. They were waiting outside to secure an apartment for the upcoming school year, even though they had only lived in their current apartments or dorms for a little over a month.

But since the demand for off-campus apartments has increased in Chapel Hill, so has the pressure to secure a place to live.

2017 is the first year the off-campus leasing process has started in September. It has gotten earlier each year due to increased demand for off-campus housing from students.

Kristen Turner, resident services manager for Shortbread Lofts and a former student at UNC, said she has noticed the Chapel Hill market gets more competitive each year, giving apartments no choice but to start their process sooner.

“We have had people who call two years in advance to secure an apartment,” Turner said. “It’s not something we like, but UNC students are competitive in everything they do, including housing.”

Sophomore Sydney Trexler said in order to get the apartment she currently lives in at Shortbread, she waited in line for almost eight hours last October.

“I woke up at five in the morning and waited in line until about 1:30,” she said. “I had to miss all of my classes and I got the last two-bedroom apartment available. It was so stressful.”

Turner said the increase in demand is also due to the recent increase in sophomores choosing to live off-campus.

“More students are seeking apartments sooner because they would rather spend more money on housing with amenities rather than on a meal plan, like on-campus offers,” Turner said.

Allan Blattner, director of UNC housing and residential education, said he realizes why this is the case — more students want apartment-style housing with kitchens, parking and private bedrooms and bathrooms.

“If I could offer that on campus, (housing) would be full,” he said. “Trouble is, I can’t. We can’t build some of the amenities they have off-campus, especially in a way students can afford. Granted, we’re not cheap in terms of living on campus; it’s a static price that you know you’re going to have a roof over your head and meals coming in.”

Cassi Pinyan, a junior at UNC and the community intern for Chapel Ridge apartments, said she has also noticed an influx in undergrads choosing to live off-campus.

She said Chapel Ridge has responded to the increased competition in changing their rates, but have not changed their deadlines to increase pressure on applicants.

“We have rolling applications throughout the year,” Pinyan said. “Certain floor plans may be hard to acquire as it gets later in the year, but applicants can find housing here for sure. We don’t make people stand out in the cold.”

Blattner said the loss of Odum Village in 2015, which served as housing for 500 students, might have been another reason more junior and senior students looked to off-campus apartments. 

But Blattner said on-campus occupancy is still 98 percent full and has increased due to the improvements the University is making — one being an earlier selection process, November instead of February, to compete with off-campus options. 

“We created the Makerspace, converted more rooms into singles, improved the restrooms and improved study rooms to try and make sure we stay as relevant as we can to students in ways that make sense for us and that are different from what a landlord can offer,” Blattner said.

"We’re in the business of having housing that’s connected to the educational mission of Chapel Hill.”

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