Russell Hall, a high-rise dorm on the University of Georgia campus, is undergoing renovations throughout the summer, including work on the windows, in Athens, Georgia, on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (Photo/Reann Huber, www.reannhuber.com)

With the start of the fall semester fast approaching, many University of Georgia students may find themselves living somewhere other than where they originally planned. Due to a shortage in student housing, University Housing has been offering students a buyout for the housing contract they accepted during the spring semester.

According to UGA’s Executive Director for Media Communications Gregory Trevor, this shortage is a result of a higher enrollment rate among admitted students than originally planned for the 2017-2018 school year. This has been attributed to the university’s rising popularity, driven by statewide and national recognition. Enrollment numbers will not be finalized until the start of the fall semester due to what Trevor referred to as “the summer melt” wherein students change their minds on attending, thereby “melting” initial enrollment numbers.

“The university is eagerly awaiting a large incoming class with a higher-than-expected increase in the percentage of students accepting our offer of admission,” Trevor said “We are doing everything we can to ensure that every first-year student who wants to live on campus will be able to do so, and we are confident that we will be able to meet this goal.”

Once there was a recognized shortage, housing began to offer incentives to on-campus students to move off campus for the upcoming school year. According to Trevor, non-first year students were offered two options: either a $3,500 fee discount to move to Brown Hall on the Health Science Campus, or a $3,500 buyout of their contracts to move off campus, disqualifying them from on campus housing for the upcoming year. 

Freshman students living in Athens-Clarke County and contiguous counties were also offered a deal of $1,000 to waive the living on campus requirement for first year students and continue living at home. Students accepting this payment will receive it in the form of a financial aid award at the start of the fall semester.

Students have had a mixed reactions to this program. Meghan O’Keefe, a sophomore majoring in international affairs and Russian said that for her, the offer came as an opportunity. 

“I wanted a comfortable living arrangement for myself next year because I don’t have a car. I was planning to live on campus in Soule Hall,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe received the offer via email while on a maymester in Costa Rica. When she read that University Housing would be offering her $2,500 and a discounted rate to live elsewhere in Brown Hall, O’Keefe said it was immediately a matter worth considering. 

“My dad and I talked about it and he was like ‘You should do it’ so I did it. Then it turned out being more profitable than it originally appeared, I figured I could just take the bus,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe said she plans on using savings from her discounted living at Brown Hall to help pay for her maymester program. Though she said her roommates were originally skeptical, they too will be joining her in Brown Hall, though not in the same room.

For senior Jeriann Jones, another international affairs major, the housing shortage has been something of a hassle. Jones said she felt that she and her roommates were given too little time and information to make plans for next year, and she felt pressured by Housing’s repeated emails about the offer.   

Jones’ struggles with housing began during the spring semester, when she and her roommates wanted to renew their contract to live in Vandiver Hall in East Campus Village. According to Jones, she and her roommates never received the opportunity to sign up for their same room for fall 2017, and when they inquired to UGA Housing on the matter, they were told the room would be unavailable. Jones and her roommates found another room within the building only to be offered a contract buyout in on May 12.

“A few months later, they offered us $2,500 for a buyout or the opportunity to move into graduate housing,” Jones said, “At that point we still didn’t really want to take it.”

Jones said within the week, that offer was upped to $3,500 to move off campus entirely, an offer Jones and her roommates accepted on May 17. 

This was not, however, the end of Jones’ dealings with UGA Housing. Jones said that communication became unclear as to when she would be freed from her contract with UGA, which she said complicated her decision making for signing a new lease. Jones said she received an email confirming that she had been freed from her housing contract and would be receiving the buyout on June 8, and will now be living at River Club.

“The problem was that they didn’t really inform us what was going on. It was rushed and it seemed like they were trying to force us out,”Jones said. “They told us at the last minute instead of letting us know earlier when everyone first started looking for apartments.”

According to the 2016 UGA Fact Book UGA accepted over 12,000 new students in 2016, with 5,420 of those students going on to enroll. According to University Housing’s website, over 7,600 students are housed in student residence halls.

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