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Column: Carolina Housing must do better for underclassmen

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Morrison Residence Hall sits on campus on Sunday, June 6, 2020.

In 2022, UNC students faced a debilitating housing crisis for the 2023-24 school year. Last semester, as students registered for housing for the 2024-25 school year, the problem seems to have only worsened.

While 583 undergraduate students who applied before the priority deadline for on-campus housing were placed on the waitlist last year, there were over 1,100 students on the priority waitlist for next year’s housing as of Dec. 1. The number of students impacted by the campus housing crisis has nearly doubled. 

Though Carolina Housing says that they expect to be able to provide housing to everyone currently on the waitlist, they can’t guarantee it. This means that those placed on the waitlist are forced to consider other options just in case Carolina Housing falls through. 

This problem is increasingly troubling for students because the median rent in Chapel Hill is increasing and a lack of housing continues to be a problem for the broader Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. Recently, Chapel Hill has been facing a “missing middle housing” problem, meaning there's a lack of available multifamily housing options (for example, duplexes and apartments). This puts strain on the options available to college students and local residents who aren’t looking for home-ownership options. 

While on-campus housing is required and guaranteed for first-year students, Carolina does not extend guaranteed housing past a student’s first year. Additionally, not all current students have the same odds of receiving a dorm assignment if they choose to apply. It is a problem that hurts rising sophomores the most.

When it comes to housing selection, students are organized by class standing according to amount credits — rising seniors, juniors and sophomores — and then given a registration time slot accordingly. Within this seniority system, seniors are given the earliest time slots and sophomores are given the latest time slots.

Rising juniors and seniors can (relatively) safely assume they will be given on-campus housing, even if they’re not placed in their top-choice dorm. Sophomores do not have the same reassurance. Carolina Housing ran out of available beds for the upcoming school year before rising sophomore registration time slots even opened up.

UNC students who do not get assigned a room are automatically placed on the waitlist, which holds about 900 students, according to an email from Carolina Housing. As many waitlisted students as possible are put in roomsbased on availability and the room preferences listed on their application, according to the Carolina Housing website. 

In a perfect world, UNC would be able to guarantee housing for all students. At the least, Carolina Housing should have capacity to guarantee housing for rising sophomores.

Housing selection occurs early in the year so that it matches the leasing schedule in the broader Chapel Hill-Carrboro housing market. But, this means that current first-years — who have been at UNC for less than a semester — are forced to worry about finding housing off-campus, which is a stressful endeavor for someone both new to the town and who is last to get a chance at on-campus housing. 

Some hope to stay on campus their first two years because they’re still adjusting to life on their own, and being close to school offers a safety net and sense of community that can be tricky to find when living off-campus. It is unfair for Carolina Housing to force this major shift upon underclassmen, instead of prioritizing providing their newest students with more housing security.

Apart from prioritizing underclassmen, Carolina Housing must either encourage the office of admissions to either admit fewer students or create more dorms. Class sizes of roughly 5,500 are unsustainable with current housing availability on campus. Any decision to expand housing will likely take some time and coordination with the Town and isn’t a feasible option for the near future. 

With the recent election of Jess Anderson as mayor of Chapel Hill, we can hope she keeps her campaign promises of addressing the housing crisis by increasing access to middle housing. Her plan includes working with UNC to address the problem — a partnership that could benefit both students and the wider town.

As we look to the new year, UNC has to take to heart how students are struggling and make addressing its housing issues a top priority. After all, students can’t reap and contribute to the community benefits of being a Tar Heel if they don’t have anywhere to live.

@emlculley

@dthopinion opinion@dailytarheel.com

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