The University Record, August 14, 1995

Housing scrambles to find space

Housing scrambles to find space

By Jane R. Elgass

University Housing staff are scrambling to find space--via temporary and alternative housing--to accommodate a larger than expected influx of students, both new and returning, who have indicated their desire to live in the residence halls.

As of last week, an estimated 165 students were scheduled to be lodged in temporary or alternative housing, although Housing officials expect that number to drop with late cancellations prior to the start of classes.

The temporary housing will be converted lounges in the residence halls and space in Baits normally used for visitors.

The University also is negotiating with Alpha Xi Delta sorority to lease its building at the intersection of Washtenaw and Cambridge (the former Kalmbach Management Center) for the entire year, providing alternative space for at least 70 students.

If lease negotiations are successful, the sorority house will be considered a residence hall for the entire year and students living there "will be provided with as many amenities available in the other residence halls as possible, including dining facilities, telephones and cable television," says Alan Levy, Housing director of public affairs and information.

Housing officials are working with Transportation Services to have the building added to the daytime commuter bus route. It already is on the Nite Owl route.

And, while there will be no computing site or library at the sorority house, students living there will be able to use those facilities at other residence halls.

According to Levy, the crunch is based on several factors, the primary one being that "the process of predicting the number of students who will need housing is not a science," but rather relies on looking at prior years' experiences and making predictions.

"There are some variables we don't control," Levy explains, "chief among them being admissions. To forecast housing needs, we operated based on enrollment targets that are set by the admissions office during the year. Their targets, in turn, are based on predicted yields, which also is not a science."

This year, a number of new students accepted enrollment in June, after many housing assignments already had been made.

Yet another factor, Levy says, is the not uncommon practice of admitted students paying enrollment fees and accepting housing contracts at several institutions, then waiting until the last minute to decide where to go.

"Sometimes the students tell us they are not coming, sometimes they just don't show up. There is no penalty to them with respect to housing. They lose only their enrollment fee, but we are required to hold their space until the first day of classes. We hope, conservatively, that this situation will yield an additional 50 or so spaces by Sept. 5."

Adding to the crunch is the "very successful" result of a campaign by Housing to "entice returning students to stay in the residence halls, rather than seek housing in the community."

The campaign was launched, Levy says, because in past years there has been a vacancy problem. "Based on patterns of the past few years, we thought this would be OK."

Illustrating the vagaries that can haunt Housing, Levy notes that last year, for instance, a gender difference problem surfaced. Admission of new students was skewed slightly to females, "overall for the University no big deal, but a big problem for Housing as our rooms are either male or female."

Letters are currently going out to parents advising them of the situation, explaining how it happened, giving them the name and phone number of a contact person in Housing and providing a list of resources available to the students.

Levy cautions that space in the residence halls will be tight all year and that room changes will be difficult.

Of the total 9,400 spaces in the residence hall system--that's pushed to the limits, including converted triples--56 percent normally are occupied by new students.

Levy wants to thank members of the University community in advance "for their patience and understanding in helping us work through this difficult situation."

"There's no slack in the system this year, and many students are in spaces we consider less than ideal. Our first priority once spaces open up will be to place those students who are in temporary spaces--converted lounges and triples--in regular rooms. There won't be much leeway for transfers for other reasons."