This year’s housing draws are even more fraught with tension than usual, as a confluence of factors — from the economic downturn to college renovations — have led to a housing crunch for rising juniors. Reporters Vivian Yee and Lauren Rosenthal investigate the current situation and the future of housing at Yale.
Sophia Popova ’11 wanted the experience of living in her own apartment after two years in Yale housing. She looked at apartments at the edges of campus, found a roommate and prepared to leave Ezra Stiles College behind. But once she realized that the cost of rent and utilities, not to mention food, would exceed Yale’s room and board fee by over $1,000, Popova ultimately decided to stay put.
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Popova is part of a growing number of students who might have left campus in previous years but who are now electing to stay on campus as the recession puts pressure on many families’ and students’ budgets. Data provided by the Yale College Dean’s Office suggests that as the cycle of residential college renovations nears completion, more and more students will want to stay in their newly renovated colleges. The projected influx of on-campus residents in coming years — combined with this year’s potential junior housing shortage — is prompting members of Yale’s housing council to consider revisions to the University’s housing allocation system.
“We have to think about these bigger issues,” said John Meeske, associate dean for physical resources and planning. “Is this a trend or is this just a blip? The numbers [of rising juniors applying for on-campus housing] are extremely, extremely high this year.”
AS CRUNCH WORSENS, JUNIORS WORRY
So many students want to live in Pierson College next year that for the first time in years, Pierson will have to annex 17 rising juniors to University-owned apartments at 210 Park St., Pierson Dean Amerigo Fabbri wrote in a e-mail Tuesday evening. Because the college does not yet know the configurations of these apartments, Pierson will postpone its junior room draw almost a week, to next Tuesday.
The unprecedented prospect of being annexed has caused consternation among rising Pierson juniors. “I sure hope I’m not part of that group,” Piersonite Lauren Noble ’11 said.
The abnormally high number of rising juniors wishing to stay on campus this year means that rising juniors in most colleges will risk being annexed or even being forced off campus entirely. The University guarantees housing to freshmen and sophomores only, and residential colleges allow seniors to claim the most desirable rooms on campus first because of seniority — often leaving juniors to choose among suites in so-called annex buildings.
“It just happens to be a matter of seniority, and juniors get squeezed off,” said Jasper Wang ’10, the secretary of the Yale College Council and a housing council member.
Although Meeske said he and other administrators felt obligated to do their “very best” to find beds for all students who want them, there is a possibility that being annexed — or moving off campus — will become commonplace for increasing numbers of juniors in future years.
Annexed juniors can be housed as far away from their colleges as Old Campus, Arnold Hall — currently Davenport College’s annex — or apartments on Park Street, a living situation that many students find unsatisfactory.
“There’s no reason for Trumbullians to want to live in Arnold Hall,” said Trumbullian Mike Educate ’11 of the building to which both Davenport and Trumbull juniors will be annexed next year. “Not many of them have Davenport junior friends.”
WEIGHING RENOVATIONS AND COSTS
In previous years, the exodus of upperclassmen to apartments and houses in New Haven was particularly sizeable in colleges that had not yet been renovated. Since the 1999-’00 academic year, an average of 19 percent of upperclassmen in Stiles and 22 percent in Morse College have lived off campus. In Calhoun College, that figure is 22 percent.
In contrast, an average of 24 percent of Davenport College upperclassmen lived off campus before its 2004-’05 renovation, compared to 14 percent since.
The other renovated colleges have seen similarly substantial pre- and post-renovation disparities. Calhoun, which is undergoing renovation this year, will be no different: The number of rising Calhoun juniors seeking on-campus housing has spiked this year, Meeske said.
“Obviously Calhoun’s going to be renovated, so it’s going to be nicer,” ’Hounie Joseph Lee ’11 said. “So it’s definitely a priority for all juniors next year that we actually do live in Calhoun.”
Like other students interviewed, Lee said he preferred living on campus because his friends would also be living there. Cost concerns may also draw students otherwise interested in living independently to campus housing — living off campus, especially with the cost of utilities and food, can be more expensive than living in Yale housing. In the wake of the economic recession, off-campus housing may become a luxury few can afford.
Stilesian Samantha Rawlins-Pilgrim ’11 is already planning her move off campus for senior year, although she said her ability to do so may hinge on the size of the cost differential between living on campus and moving off — and her parents’ willingness to subsidize that differential.
“Honestly, I would have to talk to my parents about it, because they would be the ones who would pay for it,” Rawlins-Pilgrim said.
Complicating the decision to enter the housing draw is the University’s stipulation that students who participate in the draw and accept a campus room become financially responsible for it regardless of whether they actually live in it in the fall. If a student signs a housing contract and then relinquishes his or her room, he or she must pay a quarter of one semester’s rent, or about $750.
Still, Trumbull Dean Jasmina Besirevic-Regan has told the rising juniors that they will have the opportunity to drop out of the draw without penalty because they have not yet seen the configurations of Arnold Hall, the location of Trumbull’s annex next year. Students — who were not informed of the annex designation until Monday — said in interviews that the late notification has limited their options.
“It would have been nicer to have known more about our housing earlier, because at this point getting off-campus housing is harder and harder,” Trumbullian Avinash Chak ’11 said.
SWING SPACE ROULETTE
A confluence of factors — from the larger number of rising juniors hoping to live on campus to the delay of Yale’s two new residential colleges — have forced the housing council to reconsider the future of student housing.
Many of the problems in this year’s housing process can by traced back to the rotation of students into Swing Space as their colleges are renovated one by one, which has created fluctuations in the number of students requiring annex housing.
Since Yale began the process of renovating each of the 12 residential colleges in 1990, colleges have housed their displaced students in Swing Space during the year-long renovation process. Colleges do not annex students during the year they reside in Swing Space, which can house anywhere from 220 to 440 students in 110 suites.
As Morse College, which annually annexes about six students, moves into Swing Space next year and Calhoun, which annually annexes about 40, prepares to vacate Swing Space and move into its newly renovated quarters, the upswing in requests for annex housing marks a significant departure from the less chaotic annexations of the 2008-’09 academic year, Wang said.
THE NEW COLLEGES’ DOMINO EFFECT
These problems may be compounded by University President Richard Levin’s recent announcement that all capital spending projects, including the construction of two new residential colleges, would be indefinitely shelved. The new colleges were intended to help alleviate University-wide crowding in on-campus housing and to close the door on annex housing. Still, Meeske told the News last year that eliminating annexing entirely would be difficult in practice given the unpredictable nature of student housing decisions.
“The idea was that the annexes could be completely eliminated,” Meeske said. “If the colleges were built, presumably we would also give fewer freshmen to those colleges so they wouldn’t have the need for annex housing.”
The delay on the new colleges has also jeopardized the University’s long-term goal of renovating other student living spaces, in addition to meeting all demand for in-college housing.
In 2011, members of the last residential college to be renovated, Ezra Stiles, will leave Swing Space. The housing committee had planned to use Swing Space as housing for freshman while the new colleges were under construction, Meeske said. Once the colleges were complete, the council intended to house displaced freshmen in Swing Space yet again during renovations to Lanman-Wright Hall and other Old Campus buildings. In the long run, Swing Space was slated to become housing for Yale Law School students.
But these plans are all up in the air in the wake of Levin’s announcement. Meeske said the housing council will re-examine its options, but until then, little is known about the fate of Swing Space.
“Does this mean the Law School will get Swing Space immediately after Stiles is renovated? I don’t know,” Meeske said. “We can have some discussions about that.”
The housing council will also discuss coordinating all of the residential colleges’ housing draws, Meeske said. Doing so would eliminate any perceived advantages to holding housing draws early, but would not allow the council to respond to changing estimates of the number of students requesting housing as easily, he said.
For now, Meeske said, the housing council is focusing on finding enough rooms for all students this year. The influx of rising juniors hoping for rooms on campus — as unpredictable as it may have been — caught the council off-guard, he said.
“We weren’t really planning on this,” he said. “We weren’t really taking exceptional steps to prepare for it.”