After working tirelessly to obtain admission at one of the nation’s top universities, undergoing the tumultuous process of registering for classes, finding a roommate and adjusting to their first year away from home, many University students do not have time to take a breath before they have their next mountain to scale — looking for off-Grounds housing.
With most upperclassmen at the University living off-Grounds, finding adequate, affordable housing can be a competitive, stressful experience during the fall semester. Coveted housing in prime locations such as 14th Street and Jefferson Park Avenue have rental processes that start only weeks after students arrive on Grounds — and can fill up just as quickly.
Class of 2023 alumna Liz Wilding works at Management Services Corporation, which manages over 50 properties in the Charlottesville area. Wilding has been on the administrative end of multiple leasing seasons and said that residencies nearest to the Corner and on Jefferson Park Avenue run out the fastest, with the application process starting as early as September.
Tight deadlines and short turnaround time makes selecting a place to live stressful and particularly intense for first-year students. Current second-year College student Bree Bonner, said securing her current residence at the Pointe, an apartment complex adjacent to the corner, was just as competitive as Wilding outlined.
“It was super challenging and difficult at the beginning of first year, right when we got to school,” Bonner said.
The stress for housing is not limited to first-year students, though — upperclassmen deal with similar issues on timing, especially if they do not plan on resigning leases or want to move to a different area or with a different group of people. Bonner, for example, is in a sorority, and her housing situation for the following year is still uncertain as she awaits a decision about living in her sorority house.
“I'm still worried about housing because my sorority doesn't determine who lives in the house until November,” Bonner said. “I'm hoping to live in the house. But if I can't live in the house, I don't really have a backup plan for where I'm gonna live.”
The search for housing can also be overwhelming for students who are new to navigating application processes or house hunting — especially as processes vary from leasing company to leasing company or complex to complex. The Pointe and some other properties, for example, allow tenants to “pass down” their apartment to peers in coming years without going through the typical application process.
This is especially true for some students in Greek life, where apartments are passed down through generations of members. While Bonner secured her apartment through the typical application process, according to Wilding, about 20 percent of MSC properties are pass-downs.
A lot of this information, both official and unofficial, is difficult for students to tap into. While the University hosts an Off-Grounds Housing Fair during Family Weekend in early November, this resource is available for students long after many apartments reach capacity. According to Bonner, the dissonance between when off-Grounds accommodations become available and when the University provides support to students seeking off-Grounds living demonstrates a lack of real support from the University.
“When U.Va. is telling people ‘oh, don't worry about it, you're gonna be able to find somewhere to live,’ but at the same time, there's this external pressure that everyone else is putting on you to sign a lease — you don't really believe them,” Bonner said.
The housing situation not only has implications for University students, but for the greater Charlottesville community as well. As affordable housing becomes increasingly less available, student-focused off-Grounds housing prevents many permanent Charlottesville residents from finding economical housing.
As an employee at MSC, Wilding has seen these effects play out first-hand, noting how the skyrocketing cost-of-living has impacted students and Charlottesville citizens alike.
“It's no surprise that U.Va. housing has completely pushed out Charlottesville natives — they can't afford to live here anymore,” Wilding said.
According to Wilding, MSC’s rent pricing has gone up consistently for each property for each of the three years she has worked there. Whether by $15 each month, or $100, renters will likely see an increase in their cost of living, inconveniencing both students and Charlottesville residents alike.
One pillar of the University’s 2030 Plan aims to address housing pressures for both students and Charlottesville residents. To cultivate a more vibrant community on Grounds, the University plans to require that all second-year students live on Grounds. Currently, however, students still face a variety of daunting challenges and deadlines that make the process of securing a place to live a significant added stressor to college life.
As an educator and community member, Professor Charlie Gleek in the Catalyst Program maintains a keen interest in housing both because he is both a homeowner and because it is a concern of the young people he works with.
“When it comes to second-year housing, my personal belief is that the more students we can have on Grounds, the better the University will be,” Gleek said. “The goal is to have more people living here — and not just because it's cost effective, but it's better for students. It's better for the University community.”
While the 2030 plan’s projected impact on these increasing rent prices is contested, Gleek calls community members to action to continue to fight for fair prices. As Gleek explained, the University and Charlottesville community must advocate for equitable, fair housing to achieve that goal.
“I think [the 2030 plan] is useful, but it's not something that will immediately solve it,” Gleek said. “We need advocates, policymakers, practitioners, people getting involved in the local government community and community engagement to ensure that anything that we do as a university is done so with the interests of the students and the U.Va. community.”
Former assistant manager of a Charlottesville housing complex, and Class of 2023 alumnus Henry Schutte has a more pessimistic view on the impact of the 2030 plan. According to Schutte, he’s wary of the lengthy timeline since the changes won't take effect for a while.
“It may be years, right? You start that program with second-year housing in 2030, you're not gonna see a dip in prices until 2033 — and it's not gonna be much,” Schutte said.
In the meantime, many students remain feeling overwhelmed and stressed about the process of trying to secure a place to live. Second-year College student Meadow Sadeh, who is currently renting an apartment off Grounds, said that it feels unjust to have young students make such impactful decisions so soon.
“I think it's really unfair to put these 18 [or] 19 year olds who just started a crazy life experience and force them to find out who they want to live with for the following year with such steep prices,” Sadeh said.