Finding housing as a university student is hard.
I speak from personal experience. In January of this year, I began the search with three of my friends for a place to live come September. It’s an intimidating process to enter and spearhead as teenagers that know nothing of how housing works.
There are a number of impossible stipulations and complicating factors. While the lease starts in May, you won’t be living in this space until September. What if a roommate drops out? Is the apartment or home in close proximity to campus via public transportation? How does the landlord feel about students, or about parties?
In my case, the train running past the house we ultimately rented is now shut down for two years for improvements. And one of my roommates dropped out. Go figure.
Entering into this complicated space for university students is the University of Rhode Island, reducing on-campus housing by 30 percent in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This leaves more than 1,300 expectant residence students searching at the last minute for a place to live.
“These are unbelievably hard decisions that we are making,” URI’s vice-president of students affairs Kathy Collins told the Providence Journal . “Schools across the country are working to decrease student housing density because it would be irresponsible to house students at full capacity.”
As horrible as the situation those 1,300 students now find themselves in is, it is an understandable conundrum for URI. Campus safety amid COVID-19 should be a priority for all schools, and hard decisions must be made to ensure the safety of students.
But the steps now being taken by the Narragansett Town Council are inexcusable. The council voted Monday to consider amending a zoning ordinance in the city, limiting the number of unrelated college students permitted to live in one space to three people.
Upper-year students at URI typically rent homes in Narragansett and commute to the school.
While one town councillor said the point of the ordinance was related to demographic changes in Narragansett — "We've seen over the years our family population start to go down, our enrollment in the school has gone down, something we need to do something about,” Jesse Pugh said to WJAR — the change in question leaves many students out to dry.
Pugh said that the proposal could be changed to allow four students in one space, and that the ordinance wouldn’t affect students who have already signed a lease.
However, it is no less damaging to the ability of URI students to live in Narragansett — especially now that 1,300 students are looking to live off-campus. Most student leases start in May, and in addition to searching for a lease that begins in August or September, students will now be forced to reckon with this new ordinance. Limiting dwellings to only three college students will hurt students both financially and socially.
Even if it isn’t yet in place, URI students are on the clock to sign leases with four or more students. Moreover, do you think that landlords — who are already incredibly tentative in renting their property to students — will want to have students sign a lease with a gathering cloud of uncertainty?
This perfect storm, sparked by URI but inexplicably magnified by the Narragansett Town Council, is a disaster for college students.
With some schools now transitioning to online learning, many students were already considering taking a gap year or dropping out; now, without a place to stay and the Narragansett Town Council actively working against them, what option do they have?
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