By Sean Leonard
Students are familiar with the stress induced by housing and roommate selections — but with the added complications from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is another, greater obstacle for many.
In July, the College initially proposed reducing housing capacity by 38 percent, but it changed its decision on Aug. 3 to only provide housing for students with extenuating circumstances because of the shift to an online-only semester.
Throughout the summer, students either scrambled to secure off-campus housing or find someone to take over their lease since they would be staying home. For some, the option of staying home was not feasible for various reasons.
Sophomore criminology major Daniella Fernani is the only one in her four-bedroom Campus Town apartment this semester, but she said her other three roommates still have to pay rent.
“I live in California and there is a three-hour time difference, so I needed to be here,” Fernani said.
Fernani said she signed the lease about a week before the fall semester became remote, which is why she could not back out, regardless of if she wanted to.
She also said the lease is for both semesters. Fernani and her roommates will be paying rent regardless of the decision for spring 2020 semester classes. If the campus is open for the spring, Fernani expects her roommates to move in.
Fernani also believes the Covid-19 restrictions are reasonable and Campus Town emails its residents regularly with updates.
“It’s just one group in the elevator at a time, and wear your mask everywhere you go,” she said.
However, with a large portion of the campus community off-campus, Fernani said that her building and the College campus as a whole feels empty.
“I know that they’re here because I can hear them all the time, but I have yet to see a single human being go in or out of my building,” Fernani said.
Tyler Kurtz, a sophomore biology major, is living in a five-bedroom house with four other people. Although only in his second year, he said he was already considering living off-campus back in February.
“It’s definitely a lot cheaper than on-campus housing,” Kurtz said. “You’re paying more out of pocket, but you’re learning a lot of responsibilities living on your own. It’s a lot different than having someone watch over a floor of 18-year-olds.”
Kurtz said he and his housemates signed the full-year lease in June when Fall Flex was the tentative plan for the semester. One student on Kurtz’s lease backed out because of the change to remote learning, but he said it was easy for them to fill the empty spot before the start of the semester.
“We already signed the lease, so we were kind of obligated to move in. We thought hopefully by the spring semester we would need something,” he said. “It’s a legally bound contract, but as long as somebody picked up his end of the lease and the rent then it was all fine.”
Despite health regulations limiting what they can do, he and his roommates are making the most of living away from home.
“There’s not much to do,” Kurtz said. “We have a good time, relax at night, watch some sports.”
With the rise in off-campus Covid-19 cases, avoiding large gatherings is important to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in the area.
“I’m pretty cautious about it. We have people over, but it’s people who have been tested,” Kurtz said. “We’re pretty cautious about it. I prefer not to have large groups.”
With the rise in demand for off-campus housing, one concern commonly raised by students is an increase in housing rent.
Kyle Wierzbicki, a sophomore mathematics and special education dual major, is living in a five-person house with his rugby teammates. Since he signed his lease last October, he said he did not have to scramble for housing or worry about inflated rent prices.
“I know a lot of the other leases in Ewing went up a lot. When other people were looking for houses, especially when they thought it was going to be hybrid, a lot of landlords jacked up their leases. So we were happy that we did it, and we saw it was like 100 bucks more expensive per person,” Wierzbicki said.
Wierzbicki also said his roommates are more willing to go home because there is less to do in the Ewing area.
“I live 25 minutes away. I go home every once in a while to work out. Nobody else really lives close, so they’re not really coming and going that much,” Wierzbicki said. “Other than that, we all live here. It’s fun.”
Many landlords are already trying to secure leases for the 2021-2022 school year, but Wierzbicki said he is unsure about his plans.
“(The landlord) hasn’t talked about it. I don’t think he would (raise the rent) because he’s a pretty reasonable guy but knock on wood,” Wierzbicki said. “We’re paying what’s pretty standard for rent, especially with how close to campus we are. If it was any higher it would kind of be annoying.”
Wierzbicki is still going to live off-campus in the spring, even if the semester is remote again. However, he said that he would prefer at least a hybrid model for instruction.
“I think a hybrid semester would be really good in terms of actual education, and I feel like it would be good for everyone’s mental health,” Wierzbicki said.