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As students look to the fall, questions about off-campus housing remain

An off-campus house on Franklin Street pictured on Sunday, May 17, 2020.

In the weeks since the University’s plan for reopening campus in the fall was announced, students have responded with a variety of concerns about their safety and health. For some, the uncertainty posed by the pandemic and shifting plans means they’re left searching for housing and negotiating current leases.

Some off-campus housing leases in Chapel Hill don’t begin until after the updated first day of class on Aug. 10, which is eight days before the originally planned start date. The non-traditional shortened semester with various proposed safety measures — such as masks and socially distanced classrooms and dining halls — is leading some students to look for subleasers. 

Junior Sally Ngo, who currently has a lease for next year at Union Chapel Hill Apartments, is looking to find a subleaser due to financial concerns. She plans to live in Cary with her family and commute to class, but is worried about making the 35-minute drive every day.

“I had planned my semester as if I would be on campus. So I signed up for all 9 a.m.'s and then my classes would end around noon, but I think if I were to commute I would have to wake up really early,” she said. “It's also really hard to find someone to sublease to, especially because everybody's budget is not $1,200-a-month kind of budget.”

In an email statement, UNC Media Relations said the University will offer classes in a variety of formats to help meet the needs of individual students. The University will also be in touch with enrolling students in June with more information regarding class formats.

“The University is committed to supporting students as they adjust to these unforeseen changes,” Media Relations said. “Whether students choose to return to campus or participate in remote learning, we want to foster a sense of community and belonging for everyone.”

On May 21, Union Apartments announced on Twitter it would adjust its move-in date to Aug. 6 to accommodate residents.

For students whose study abroad programs were canceled, finding a place to sublease has also been a challenge, as they find most people are looking to fully transfer their leases.

Junior Naeha Prabhu, who planned to do a study abroad program in Prague next fall, initially struggled to find housing. Because she’s already signed a lease for the spring semester, she said many people she reached out to were looking for people who would take their full lease rather than just one semester.

After reaching out to Carolina Housing and a few apartment complexes, Prabhu was able to negotiate a six-month lease with Lark Chapel Hill.

“I would say that's pretty good, in terms of finding a furnished apartment that's letting us do that,” Prabhu said. “Like ideally, ideally, we were looking for just an August to November one, now that we don't even have school in December, but it's obviously hard to find that because no one will sublease December.”

Prabhu reached out to Carolina Housing on May 22 asking about possibilities of a six-month lease. Although they offer one-year contracts, Assignments Manager April Snowden told her that Carolina Housing would review her inquiry. 

At the time of publication, Prabhu had not received a response. She said she was surprised by their lack of response, as she believed they’d work to make exceptions for students impacted by canceled UNC programs.

Rick Bradley, director of administrative services for Carolina Housing, said in an email that Carolina Housing is committed to helping students navigate the “challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Bradley said students facing financial hardships because of COVID-19 can apply for emergency assistance through the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid.

“Carolina Housing does not currently offer a six-month lease; we do offer spring-only contracts,” Bradley said. “However, at this point, housing is at capacity so any non-first-year students requesting housing, whether it be for one semester or two, are being waitlisted.”

Media Relations also said the Office of Off-Campus Student Life is in communication with off-campus student housing providers about the change in the academic calendar. They said students should work with their housing providers to “determine what works best for them” and contact Student Legal Services if they need assistance negotiating their lease.


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