Michael Grace spent the first few weeks of school “couch-hopping” as he sat on the wait-list for General Studies housing.
“You do the best you can,” Grace, a GS transfer student, said. “The GS lounge has been very useful for that. Take showers at Dodge, camp in your car when you can, sleep in the library,” he added, laughing.
Grace had until Aug. 24 to accept the University’s initial offer of housing, but he had to decline because the Office of Financial Aid did not release his financial award until Aug. 31. Placed on the waiting list, he was not presented a new offering of housing after learning of his financial situation because housing options are so limited for GS students. As a result, his first few weeks in Morningside Heights left him virtually homeless, trying to juggle classes and homework on the side.
Housing has never been guaranteed for any of the 1,500 students enrolled in GS. This fall, GS received about 400 applications for housing for just over 140 spots, according to Dean of Enrollment Management Curtis Rodgers. Applications for housing are prioritized by class year—first-years are most likely to receive a room—as well as applicants’ timeliness throughout the process and the distance they would have to travel to campus without Columbia housing.
Housing shortages at Columbia are not unique to Grace—Barnard underwent a drastic shortage this summer as well. But this year, the problem at GS was compounded by an increase in first-year class size. Administrators say they have been working to expand housing options for Columbia’s nontraditional students.
“The GSSC has anticipated the housing issue with the rise of enrollment this semester,” General Studies Student Council President Jennifer Wisdom said in an email, “but students are increasingly more vocal about the issue this year because it is affecting more students than ever.”
About a dozen of the most extreme cases come to Rodgers’ attention each year. He said that when presented with emergency cases, the administration works closely with Facilities to find both an immediate and long-term solution for the student.
“You hear about a student sleeping in the library, but students are unaware that there is a process that we follow,” Rodgers said. “Approximately 50 percent of full-time population is housed. We’ve probably grown by 25 percent in terms of our total footprint in housing over the last two years.”
GS administrators have been working with the housing and facilities offices to increase the availability of housing for GS students. Three years ago, GS began offering apartments leased from local landlords with subsidized University rates. Now, there are almost 100 of these leased units available to students, and GS has been able to offer housing to every student on the wait-list in two of the last three years.
However, in the event that a student cannot find housing by the start of the semester, Rodgers said that he would advise the student to take a semester off to figure out his living situation.
“There’s no way a student can focus on the academic program without stability in housing,” he said. “I would prefer to not have any of these cases, so even one is a problem from my point of view.” Rogers often works one-on-one with students in housing crunches.
Kamran Etemad, GS ’14, also had a difficult experience with housing. After transferring to Columbia in January, Etemad signed a lease with Facilities before seeing his room and was disappointed by what he found when moving in.
“When I got upstairs to the fifth floor, the hallway smelled like urine,” he said. And the bathroom was lined with mold—which often signals mold within the walls, he noted.
Ultimately, Etemad had to be moved immediately due to his asthma, and while he said that the administration was very accessible in helping with his situation, he said he was offended the already-limited housing options for GS included degrading units like the one he was initially offered. “It is a travesty that Columbia allows its students to live in this kind of housing considering who we are as a school,” he said.
Wisdom said that GSSC is organizing a town hall later this semester for students and administrators to reconsider housing policies. Both Etemad and Grace said that they would like to have more prompt and transparent communications with facilities in the future.
“Never at any point through this housing debacle, was I not appreciative of Columbia,” Grace said. “Regardless, I’ve been around New York for a long time. But if you’ve come from far away, and you’re stuck, how do you handle this?”