On-campus housing lottery draws to a close

5/7/2014 – Medford/Somerville, MA, 02155 – Carmichael Hall on May 7th, 2014. Some living options in Carmichael Hall were particularly popular in this year's housing lottery. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

Following a series of lotteries beginning Feb. 2, the two-month-long housing selection process for the 2015-2016 school year draws to a close with a final Catch All lottery beginning on April 13.

The lottery and on-campus housing systems, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL), are mechanisms to help allocate and distribute rooms among undergraduate students. First-years and sophomores who are not commuting from home are required to live on campus, while upperclassmen are not guaranteed on-campus housing, requiring many to lease apartments and homes in surrounding Medford or Somerville neighborhoods.

According to ORLL Director Yolanda King, the most sought-after on-campus accommodations this year included group apartments in Latin Way, Hillsides, Sophia Gordon Hall, Carmichael Hall, Wren Hall and Stratton Hall, as well as singles in other traditional halls. In addition, about 150 rising juniors were able to secure rooms in this year’s lottery, with a small number remaining on a wait list.

However, in an email to undergraduates on March 4, King noted an unusual hiccup in the standard housing procedure of years past involving a large volume of calls to ORLL regarding the configurations of six-person apartments. The letter, signed by King, explains that the ORLL has noticed a recurring pattern in which five rising sophomores and one rising junior intend to live together.

There was concern that in a number of these cases, students may have been exploiting the fact that juniors have higher lottery numbers than sophomores. By throwing these upperclassmen’s numbers into the mix, the group average as a whole could be elevated, affording them an advantage in the lottery.

“This year it was brought to our attention that some student groups applying for some of the apartments might have included one or two students who were not fully committed to living on campus,” King told the Daily in an email. “We responded by emailing students to confirm that anyone signed up for an apartment should be committed to live in the unit next year. Students who cancel to go live off campus … will forfeit the $750 commitment fee.”

King explained that the issue was brought to the forefront by concerned students, which spurred ORLL to investigate the final groups that were submitted. Ultimately, the application process for the six-person suites was extended to give students the opportunity to reconfigure their groups in case an initial group member did not intend to live on campus during the fall semester.

Another marked change in this year’s housing process was brought about by first-years Emily Tannenbaum and Max Hirsch, both of whom are Tufts Community Union (TCU) senators. The students, who worked independently of the Senate, convinced ORLL to release a list of rooms and the corresponding lottery numbers from the previous year in order to give students a better understanding of what housing opportunities their numbers could afford them.

“As [first-years] ourselves, we were confused by the housing system and we had no idea what our numbers meant and where we could live,” Hirsch said. “This way you have some concrete information.”

Tannenbaum explained that she and Hirsch were not the first students to seek this information. Even though ORLL has now released more housing information of this nature, there were several hurdles restricting what ORLL was able to release, including a new data system that restricted access to housing lottery data and the rooms with which they were associated from years past.

She also noted that there were some concerns about anticipated student responses; she drew up a  hypothetical scenario in which a student could not obtain a room with his or her lottery number despite data from previous years suggesting it would be attainable.

“It is also difficult to show trends because the numbers are from 1,500 to 3,000,” Tannenbaum said. “We don’t even have that many students, so there are a lot of blank numbers, so there could be way more low [or high] numbers. I think that is another problem — how they distribute numbers and demand changes every year, so we can’t really control that, but it’s hard.”

Both Hirsch and Tannenbaum explained that although ORLL has been fairly responsive and cooperative, they still believe the housing system is fraught with issues and hope to make enduring changes to it in the future.

“I know a lot of people who have decided to live in special interest housing or fraternities or sororities just because it’s easy,” Hirsch said. “It’s easier than stressing about who you are going to live with, because it’s terrifying. People with good numbers could get a single somewhere nice, so it’s a terrible system where you really have to fight with your friends … No one likes the lottery system.”

Hirsch also discussed efforts by other Senate members to improve the off-campus experience, including working to foster a better relationship among neighbors and coping with the Somerville housing ordinance that limits students to four unrelated individuals in a single unit.

According to Hirsch, sophomore TCU Senator Allison Aaronson is taking on an initiative to bring more gender-neutral bathrooms and housing to campus, a project that has been approved by the Senate. King explained that this year, more groups voiced interest in gender-neutral housing than in years past.

In addition to working to accommodate these student needs, housing options on campus will see changes in the coming year within the buildings themselves. King explained that over the summer, smaller wood-frame houses such as Richardson House, Carpenter House and Tousey House, as well as Hodgdon Hall, will undergo renovations.

Despite some of the issues along the way, King said she is content with the housing system’s overall efficacy.

“From our perspective lottery was successful,” King said. “The system worked the way it should, and most students seem satisfied.”