While COVID-19 has altered nearly everything on campus this semester, from remote instruction to empty football stadiums, what has remained frustratingly unchanged is the fall rush to search for off-campus housing for the following year, despite looming uncertainty, safety precautions and years of students advising against signing too early.
Unlike many undergraduate institutions, the University of Wisconsin does not have an on-campus living requirement, though roughly 90% of freshmen choose to do so. Though UW has begun to offer select Eagle Heights apartments to non-freshmen undergraduates starting with this current lease cycle, there are no dorms reserved solely for upperclassmen and the majority of undergraduates move off campus after freshmen year.
The fall rush has proven to be a stressful season time and time again, but pandemic-induced anxiety compounded with uncertainty as to what campus life will look like next year emphasizes that renewals and rental searches start too early.
Freshmen who might not have secured reliable friend groups in online classes and upperclassmen who may have taken the semester off due to COVID-19 concerns still feel pressured to sign quickly or simply hope desirable apartments are still available in the spring.
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Sophomore Huong Nguyen, whose current apartment’s property management gave her a deadline of Oct. 1 to decide whether she wanted to renew her lease before it was shown to potential renters, said the pandemic played a significant role when deciding her living plans for next year.
Specifically, if instruction were to remain hybrid, location would not be as important to Nguyen as it had been in prior years, but the number of roommates could make quarantining more difficult if someone were to become infected in a smaller shared space.
For students who are not currently on campus, searching for housing is especially difficult in that touring and communicating with roommates, or even finding roommates, must be done virtually.
Sophomore Caitlyn Halfon, who is currently at home in California, said she still has not signed a lease, even after submitting a $250 application for an apartment at the Hub, which was later rejected.
“Everywhere is pretty much full now, so my roommate group had to split up. I think since this year [is] so uncertain and activities aren’t the same as they were last year, we are still sort of uncertain about what next year will be like,” Halfon said.
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Similarly, sophomore Lindsey Miller, who has also stayed home this past semester, echoed Halfon’s sentiments, explaining how the unpredictability as to whether classes will be online next fall impacted her desire to sign a lease for next year. Additionally, being at home has prevented her from touring apartments in person, and communicating virtually with roommates and property managers is tedious.
Even before Gov. Tony Evers’ Nov. 18 order banned all indoor gatherings, many rental listings did not hold in-person showings, leaving students to sign based off photos and floor plans.
Sophomore Ryan Hagle, currently searching for places for next year, said touring now involves navigating pandemic precautions on top of the already exhausting process of finding a place that satisfies everyone.
“Most of them limit how many people can go in at a time, and we have to go through a whole process to see the place. I completely understand and support the precautions, but it makes it difficult to quickly find the home that we like best,” Hagle said.
Though off-campus property managers and landlords are also impacted by the pandemic and on-campus activity, given that they will feel the financial losses if classes remain remote into next year, renewals have always begun unnecessarily early.
Despite past proposals from city alders to enact a six-month waiting period before asking for renewals, landlords can legally ask you to renew whenever they want. For those who are already living off campus, this catalyzes the fall rush to sign, leading other students to feel the pressure to sign early as well out of fear that there will be fewer options come spring.
Still, in a year marked by uncertainty and anxiety for the future, students should not expect nor be asked to sign this early into the year without any indication as to what next year — or even next semester — will look like on campus.
Though we all miss UW’s longstanding traditions and mourn the loss of a normal semester at the hands of COVID-19, the fall rush to sign is one we should finally lay to rest.
Anne Isman ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in economics and international studies.