April 7, 2008

The housing crunch

High-school seniors are trying to figure out where to go to school next year. College seniors are furiously trying to finish their B.A. papers—not to mention scrambling to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives. First-, second-, and third-years, meanwhile, are attempting to make productive plans for the summer. They are also taking part in the mad dash to nab an apartment in Hyde Park. Many students leaving housing don’t anticipate how quickly apartments disappear and how stressful the entire search can be.

But that isn’t the half of it: The majority of apartments are in the areas of Hyde Park with the highest crime and students have to deal with landlords who could easily be confused with crime syndicates. (Anyone remember K&G’s old office?)

Of course, students wouldn’t have to deal with all of this if leaving housing weren’t so lucrative. The best you can do if you stay is housing is pay what would be $634 a month—and that’s only if you live in a one-room double. Few apartment renters pay more than $500 a month and some pay as little as $350. If you want your own space (something apartments offer lots of) and a kitchen you end up shelling out around $834 a month to live in the crumbling Shoreland or depressing Stony Island. You can live in one of the luxury high-rises by the lake and pay less than that.

To be fair, the University is doing something about the quality of housing. The new dorm south of the Midway looks nice (especially compared to Max P), but when upperclassmen have to shell out more than $2,000 to eat the delights Aramark cooks up, it’s hard to take the University’s efforts to improve housing all that seriously.

Third- and fourth-years almost never stay in housing because they aren’t too fond of getting screwed over by the University. This is too bad; ideally underclassmen wouldn’t be completely on their own. Third- and fourth-years should be in housing to impart maturity and knowledge to underclassmen. First- and second-years are already segregated from upperclassmen because of the Core; there’s no reason for the University to also keep them isolated in housing and at the dinner table. It might be lucrative, but that’s not an adequate justification given the costs to the student body.

The state of housing affects Hyde Park as well. If the undergraduate community were in one close area, there might be enough population density to actually sustain the type of commercial district (or even nightlife!) that students at most other colleges take for granted. Again, the new dorm might do something positive here, but the Shoreland’s 600 residents are a lot fewer than the 2,000 scattered across the neighborhood in East Hyde Park, North Hyde Park, Kenwood, the high-rises by the lake, and South Hyde Park.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution that Zimmer can easily turn into a bullet point in one of his long, meandering e-mails. The high price for a dorm room has pushed many upperclassmen out of housing and further encouraged others, uninterested in living with no one they know, to follow suit. At this point, it isn’t clear that people would stay in housing no matter the cost.

Regardless, something needs to be done. Housing is a joke. The U of C’s favorite pastime might be making fun of other top-10 colleges, but at least those schools don’t have an explicit policy of screwing over students who stay in housing.