Although it seems that this year’s class of freshmen only recently moved into their dorms and began college-level classes for the first time, the time has come to face a new challenge: finding off-campus housing for the 2023-24 school year.
With over 7,000 freshmen entering the housing market, many for the first time, space in Fayetteville is bound to be tight and prices are likely to rise rapidly as apartments sell. The pressure to find housing that fits students’ unique sets of needs at an affordable price has made this decision stressful for many UA students.
In recent years, the university has faced housing struggles on campus. In July 2021, University Housing officials reassigned approximately 285 upper-level students to neighboring off-campus apartment complexes with similar amenities to make room for the incoming class of freshmen that, at the time, was set to be the largest class to enter the university.
Housing officials repeated that cycle again in late April of 2022, when officials canceled the on-campus housing contracts of about 650 returning and transfer students to accommodate the largest class of incoming freshmen on record. The decision sparked notable outrage, as it left many students scrambling to find housing after the leasing period had wrapped up at many complexes. Many students have expressed concerns that if enrollment keeps rising in the coming years, it will be even more difficult to find a place to call home.
Jordan Thomas, a freshman, is one of the many students currently facing a time crunch and unexpected stress while searching for her apartment.
“I’ve narrowed my search down to two places, but I’m really frustrated at the amount of money it will cost.” Thomas said. “I didn’t realize I needed to sign (a lease) for next August before this November.”
Many students are beginning their housing search now so they are able to find the best place to stay with the best price tag attached.
Officials are prioritizing incoming freshmen when deciding who receives the approximately 6,200 beds available on campus, as well as the 1,000 beds leased from neighboring apartment complexes, said Christopher Spencer, University Housing assistant director for marketing and strategic communications. The decision has left most students who are not freshmen with no choice but to seek housing elsewhere.
“The University of Arkansas has a freshman residency requirement because of the academic and social support offered when a student lives on campus,” Spencer said. “This is the reason University Housing focuses so keenly on that portion of the student population. We want them to be supported as newcomers to the University of Arkansas community.”
Those who are searching for off-campus apartments are currently facing a time crunch as off-campus housing quickly sells out. Many housing complexes have already stated they are set to run out of units before the end of the calendar year. On Oct. 14, Atmosphere Apartments officials sent an email to prospective residents stating that they had filled over 80% of the community for next year after only leasing for a single month. The email also indicated that rates would only increase to fill the last 100 spots available.
Even for those who have already found a new home amid the housing crunch, there have been issues with rising prices and entire complexes selling out as the leasing period continues. Additionally, although many students have already signed leases expecting their rates to stay locked in, there have been unexpected changes to floor plans and subsequent price adjustments that will only continue as time goes on.
A freshman, who asked to only be known as Christopher H. to avoid any retribution from his future apartment complex, has already faced the stressors of leasing season just when he thought he and his friends were in the clear.
“Initially, the housing process went smoothly. I and my group of roommates were looking for a four-bedroom apartment close to campus (and) easily found multiple nice options,” Christopher H. said. “Rent was similar between most of the options, and given that the average rent for an apartment in Fayetteville is around $600, paying more for a nice apartment close to campus seemed reasonable.”
However, it was after signing their lease at the YOUnion that he and his future roommates found issues.
“We received an email informing us that a specific floor plan had sold out and we would need to either switch floor plans or pick a different housing option,” Christopher H. said. “That afternoon, we received an updated summary of charges for the new floor plan. However, the rent had increased from about $639 to $789. The change was completely unexpected, and my roommates and I had to rush to determine whether it would be financially viable.”
Ultimately, the student and his friends chose to sign the new lease despite the price increase.
“The website now lists higher prices for their rooms, but I don’t know when that change was made,” Christopher H. said. “We certainly weren’t notified of it until we had a new summary of charges ready to sign.”
A lack of affordable housing, exacerbated by a lack of housing infrastructure in the areas surrounding the UA campus, often leaves students in the position to make challenging financial decisions while trying to balance classes, jobs, extracurriculars and their social lives.
Many students have expressed that they feel exhausted by the seemingly never-ending search and are concerned that this problem could span into the years to come.
“The university’s back-to-back record years of freshmen has put unprecedented stress on the housing market in Fayetteville,” Thomas said. “More people are going to the university than ever before, but there’s hardly a place to house them all. It’s frustrating to me that the university is prioritizing the money from prospective students over the effects on the lives of their current student body.”