At the onset of COVID-19, one word was on every student’s mind — housing.
On March 11, 2020, when UNC initially extended its spring break due to the pandemic, many students — including then-first-year students who are now current seniors — were thrown into a blind search for housing.
Several seniors spoke to The Daily Tar Heel about their journeys with housing during their time at UNC, an experience defined by the chaos of COVID-19.
After finishing her first spring semester remotely, senior Meena Kaundinya returned to campus with promises of in-person learning for her sophomore year.
However, after about a week of in-person classes, 505 positive COVID-19 cases were reported at UNC, effectively closing the campus, making instruction remote and forcing on-campus residents to find other means of housing.
Kaundinya never intended to stay on campus after her first year and was able to find off-campus housing instead. However, many students were not as lucky.
“I had a few friends living in dorms as sophomores, and unfortunately, they had to relocate after they were kicked out of their dorms,” she said. “And they had to move back to their perspective homes with their families, or they had to do a really quick turn around and find housing off-campus, which I heard was very difficult.”
Ellen Garfinkle, a senior studying political science and global studies, remembered how quick the process of finding new housing arrangements was for her.
“I planned to live on campus again," Garfinkle said. "I had done my housing in the fall, and I knew going into the summer that it was looking a little shaky. And, that was the year that UNC did bring back students, but then sent them home. So, I ended up having to cancel my housing very last minute and lived off-campus ever since."
These stressors for students did not stop with the struggle to find off-campus housing. Those who could not find alternative housing and were forced to move back home experienced the fear and emotional stress of potentially exposing their loved ones to the virus.
“A few of my friends were nervous going back to their hometowns because they didn’t want to spread anything,” Kaundinya said.
There was also the added stress for out-of-state students, due to travel expenses and the time required to move back and forth between home and campus.
“I have a friend who had to move back to New York really quickly. He had his parents drive down and gathered all his things in the car and then drove him back up, which was pretty stressful on him,” Kaundinya said.
She said she could not imagine how hard moving back and forth must have been for international students.
As online learning and housing uncertainty continued, many students were left with mental health difficulties, fighting feelings of loneliness.
“I feel like it was isolating in the fact that you were only with a certain amount of people all the time, and it was just hard. You couldn’t go out to restaurants. You couldn't see people from your classes that you had met last year and just people in general,” Mary Callan Kelso, a senior studying political science and music, said.
In addition to dealing with isolation, students had to balance the pressure of keeping up with school and finding the motivation to complete coursework.
“All the classes were online, and it was hard for me to focus,” Kelso said. “I was a music major, like I was doing my singing lessons online. I felt like there wasn't really any point for me to be there and be in school when I felt like I was not getting enough out of what I was paying for."
She said she did not blame instructors, but rather the situation at large.
Today, while the class of 2023 may not be dealing with the exact chaos of finding housing in the height of a pandemic, issues with housing still prevail and may end up hurting future students.
Garfinkle and Kelso both said they have heard about many recent and upcoming rent increases, likely due to increased demand and inflation.
“It was like a then and now type of thing," Kelso said.
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