Associate Director of Housing Operations Matt Austin is creating a plan to change the lottery system, cutting down on the length of the process. (Courtesy Matthew Austin)

ResLife proposes new changes to housing lottery

Changes to the Tufts housing lottery system were proposed at the Oct. 15 Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate meeting by Matt Austin, associate director for housing operations in the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife).

Austin, who started in his position in April, said that he was hoping to present a menu of options for change, based on the student population and system capabilities. ResLife plans on announcing the official changes to the lottery system in the next few weeks.

Austin’s biggest priority is shortening the housing lottery process.

“Length of time was one of [the student complaints], because there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the options were going to be at the end of the lottery and then if you didn’t receive housing … and there isn’t anything left or available, [you] wouldn’t know that for sure until mid-March,”Austin said. “That’s really tough when you then need to go and look for off-campus housing based on that.”

Austin added that Tufts’ peer institutions have much shorter housing lotteries. The current Tufts lottery system takes about two and a half months to complete, and based on peer institutions and student feedback, Austin hopes to shorten that timeframe.

“The process of actually selecting rooms and choosing who your roommates are and all that stuff would stay generally the same, just on a quicker timeline. Instead of a week to find your roommates and select a room in Haskell, for instance … that would all happen in a day or two,”Austin said. “The system can certainly handle a whole lot more than we are doing.”

Austin also mentioned the possibility of changing how the lottery numbers themselves worked. Students would have to apply for housing to activate or receive a lottery number. This would ensure that good lottery numbers are not wasted on students already planning to live off campus. 

Additionally, instead of averaging numbers among roommates or suitemates, the highest number would represent the entire group. Austin said the current system of averaging lottery numbers will continue for this academic year, however, and it still has not been determined whether his proposal will be implemented in the future.

Austin has been speaking with housing database specialists to discuss changes in the timeline and other schools that have a similar process to Tufts.

“I’m trying to work with our software folks to say ‘Alright, what’s possible and … what’s going to make sense for our students?’ That’s really my number one priority,” Austin said. “I want to make sure it makes sense for Tufts.”

Jamie Neikrie, a senior who serves as the chair of the Administration and Policy Committee on TCU Senate, said that Tufts students get off-campus housing very early, to their own disadvantage.

“By [getting off-campus housing] in September or October, we’re just allowing the landlords to jack up the price on us,” he said.

By changing the Tufts housing lottery timing, students will have a better idea of what their on-campus options are before looking for off-campus housing, Neikrie said. Neikrie thinks that the new housing system could shift the off-campus housing process to start a bit later for students, putting Tufts students in the real estate market with non-Tufts students and young professionals, who tend to look for housing closer to December or January. He said that, if Tufts students are part of this larger market, landlords will be less able to rent students homes at unreasonable rates.

Benya Kraus, TCU Senate president, said that the shortened timeframe will be positive because it will prevent extended stress for students going through the housing lottery process.

Kraus, a senior, also echoed Neikrie’s concerns about the off-campus housing system, saying that some rising juniors sign leases as early as September.

“That is such an artificial, really exploitative system and landlords are taking advantage of that,” she said. “Under this new system, you would find out if you have a lottery number that would be good enough to enter the lottery system and live on campus in the fall semester.”

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