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'Do I spend all my money?': Graduate students grapple with finding affordable housing

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1700 Baity Hill is pictured on Sunday, January 21, 2024.

Graduate students registered for at least one credit hour can live in any of UNC's on-campus housing options, including residence halls. But, most of them opt for an alternative.

Out of over 9,300 graduate students, just three chose to live in residence halls this year, UNC Media Relations said in an email statement. The Baity Hill Apartment Community, offered by Carolina Housing on South Campus, houses an additional 544 graduate students.

Carson Telford, a second-year doctorate student in the epidemiology program at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, came to UNC in 2022 when he was married with an infant son.

“When I was trying to decide what school to go to, someone had recommended Baity Hill, and UNC was the only school I was looking at that had grad housing for families specifically,” Telford said. “That’s one of the big reasons I decided on UNC.”

Telford said he and his wife pay the least for rent out of all the students he knows in his program. An unfurnished two-bedroom two-bathroom apartment in Baity Hill is currently $6,871 per semester, rising to $7,353 per semester for the 2024-25 school year. On the contrary, the two-month summer semester rent for that layout is $2,934, down from the $3,019 price tag from the previous year.

“It’s pretty quiet at Baity Hill," he said. "You don’t see a whole lot of people. There’s not like parties or anything going on there, it’s really relaxed."

Graduate students can also opt to live off-campus, but those who do face the additional burden of high housing costs. According to the Town of Chapel Hill's quarterly fiscal report released in December, 60 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Nikhil Kothegal,  treasurer of the graduate workers co-chapter of The Workers Union at UNC, said buying a home is not feasible for most graduate students and finding housing can be more difficult than it is for undergraduates.

“We are just generally older. You might have other considerations. You might have more belongings and furniture. You might be married. You might have a family,” Kothegal said.

Kothegal and his wife rent the upper level of a home in Chapel Hill where they have lived for five years. Their landlord lives on the first floor.

When the couple first moved to Chapel Hill, they considered the possibility of buying a condo in Durham. Kothegal said he quickly realized that a lot of areas in Durham have been gentrified and have high housing costs, which hindered their plan.

“You’re kind of like, 'Do I live with roommates that may or may not provide me some peace? Or do I spend all my money?'” Kothegal said.

Luke Conners, a UNC graduate student, said he considers himself very lucky to have found an affordable house north of campus, just a 13-minute walk away from the Old Well. He said the rent and the proximity to campus influenced his decision to live there.

Most graduate students he knows live in Carrboro with roommates, Conners said. He currently serves as the vice president for communications within the Graduate and Professional Student Government, where he said there are frequent conversations about housing.

Conners said he thinks the University could have more influence on large-scale housing policy by engaging in conversations with local government. He said the Town and University could discuss ways to incentivize graduate students to move to particular areas, including through building more affordable housing. 

Conners' advice to other graduate students in search of housing is to get in touch with peers in their graduate program.

"They probably know about really good deals in town and complexes that have a high proportion of graduate students who have fairly low rent," he said.

@maddieahmadi

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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