The Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) is considering new strategies to address problems with the housing lottery system in light of cases of housing lottery fraud this past spring.
According to Director of ResLife Yolanda King, last semester, some students last spring applied for housing in groups with upperclassmen, who have higher lottery numbers, in order to boost their lottery number averages and place into more popular on-campus housing. These upperclassmen, who actually intended to live off campus, would then drop out of the on-campus housing group, leaving the other members of the group with the housing option they wanted.
“During last year’s group apartment lottery, it was brought to my attention that rising sophomores were applying to the six-person apartments with one rising junior in order to boost their group average to increase their chances for getting an appointment time to select,” King told the Daily in an email. “This did create an unfair and stressful situation for many students.”
This year’s “Housing Lottery Selection General Information” booklet, compiled by ResLife, states that students may not “buy, sell or trade [their] lottery number.”
Students living on campus are required to secure their housing with a $750 commitment fee — a payment that is only refundable for students planning to travel abroad or transfer the following semester, according to the general information booklet. In 2010, this commitment fee was raised from $500 to its current amount in response to concerns that students were increasingly abusing the housing system, the Daily reported.
King said she is considering various strategies to prevent housing fraud in the future, including mandating that all apartment group members belong to a single graduating class. This would prevent underclassmen from enlisting upperclassmen with higher lottery numbers to sign up for on-campus housing with the intention of dropping out of the system, she explained.
King said she is also thinking of punishing all members of any group suspected of attempting lottery fraud, and only allowing housing groups to verify their housing plans one time.
“If students select an apartment, and a member with a high lottery number cancels for reasons other than studying abroad, all remaining members would lose the apartment and be re-assigned based on what is available later,” she said.
Sophomore Vivian Zhong said that lottery-rigging has been common practice among students throughout her time at Tufts.
“[Lottery fraud] was pretty prevalent last year,” Zhong said. “I was a freshman and there was such a scramble to find sophomore housing, especially in Hillsides or Latin Way. Almost half of the people I talked to about housing at least considered [fraud] at one point.”
Judicial Affairs Administrator Mickey Toogood said that, though lottery fraud cases have been brought to his attention, no cases have come before the judiciary committee since he became the judicial affairs administrator last year. Cases that do come before the Judicial Affairs office may lead to probation, he said.
“Fraudulence, or misrepresentation, is a violation of…university [policy] and that’s because we [at Tufts] value honesty, and a violation like this might warrant probation,” he said. “While context might be important, I think we would take any sort of fraud seriously.”
Toogood explained that lottery-rigging impacts other students trying to secure housing, and feared that abuse of the housing system could exacerbate the shortage of campus housing.
“If five students agree to go in together on a room and one of them is never really intending to live in that room, it could have a real impact on someone else’s ability to live on campus in a place where they want to be, or even on campus at all,” he said. “So its a very concrete problem.”
Zhong expressed concerns about ResLife possibly increasing its involvement in student housing.
“I’m sure some people legitimately want to live with their upperclassmen friends and it may be overstepping some privacy boundaries to have ResLife investigate and question everyone’s relationships within housing groups,” she said.
On the other hand, Zhong also noted that the housing fraud process can alienate students in lower-class communities. She explained that underclassmen who attempt to game the lottery system often agree to split the cost of the upperclassman’s $750 drop-out fee in exchange for better-quality housing. This practice can exacerbate class divides, since students who can afford the fee have more access to better housing, she said.
“Not all students are easily able to shell out extra money to cover the dropout fee,” Zhong said. “Many students are on financial aid, and some of these conversations can make students uncomfortable. It seems like those who don’t have to worry about finances are able to buy their way into more desirable housing.”
Toogood added that, disregarding the fact that lottery fraud violates university code, students should consider the impact that their actions have on their peers.
“We’re all part of the same community, so I would hope that they’d want to respect that and not want to disadvantage anyone just because five members of a certain group wanted to live together or something like that,” he said. “It could have a real impact on someone’s experience.”