WILLIAMSBURG — In an Oct. 12, 2022 email to students, the College of William & Mary Residence Life office announced that, given the closure of the Yates and Monroe residence halls, it anticipated a housing waitlist of approximately 400-500 students for the 2023-24 academic year. In Feb. 2023, the College notified 548 upperclassmen of their waitlist status. According to Director of Housing and Residence Life Harriet Kandell, the number of waitlisted students is currently 339.
Given the size of the waitlist for 2023-24 on-campus housing, many of the upperclassmen in this uncertain hiatus have begun looking for off-campus housing options. The increased demand for off-campus rentals has shed light on the City of Williamsburg’s position in the national housing shortage crisis.
Anika Ahammad ’25, an American Studies major, the incoming advocacy chair of William & Mary First-Generation, Low-Income Students and a Pell Grant student, shared her experience as one of the 339 students still on the housing waitlist.
“It’s been really stressful, honestly,” Ahammad said. “I am a first-generation, low-income student. And when I heard the news that I’m on the waitlist, no guarantee for housing next year, it got my parents pretty upset. It’s a lot of undue stress on us, like, how will I find off-campus housing? What resources are there? And I did email ResLife and went in person a few times to see if there was anything I could do. But the response I got wasn’t the best. It just felt like that they didn’t really have a lot of empathy for my situation.”
“IT’S A LOT OF UNDUE STRESS ON US, LIKE, HOW WILL I FIND OFF-CAMPUS HOUSING? WHAT RESOURCES ARE THERE?” AHAMMAD SAID.
In an email to The Flat Hat, Kandell said that students currently on the waitlist still have the potential to receive the opportunity for on-campus housing. This past year, ResLife was able to house all waitlisted students by Aug. 1, 2022.
“Being waitlisted does not necessarily mean you won’t be able to live on campus for the 2023-24 academic year,” Kandell wrote. “Students continue to withdraw from housing for a variety of reasons such as study abroad opportunities and other changes to circumstances. We will continue to work with students through this challenging time, and we are committed to doing all we can to house as many of our students next year as possible.”
Ahammad originally applied for on-campus housing for multiple reasons, including the comforting opportunity to be able to apply with her current roommate.
“I wanted to stay close to campus, I don’t have the means to afford a car,” Ahammad said. “I also wanted to stay with my roommate who I feel like is understanding of my religious practices. I’m Muslim, I don’t know how things would work out if I went off-campus.”
Ahammad recently secured off-campus housing for the 2023-24 school year with the help of a friend in FGLI. However, she realized several issues within the city’s rental market through the process of leasing a rental property nearby campus, including the issue of complicated lease agreements.
“When it comes to having on-campus housing, there are some things you don’t have to worry about,” Ahammad said. “This is my first time renting, finding a place of my own. So there are all these legal details that I did not understand and needed help with. If you’re on campus, you don’t have to worry about paying for electricity, having Wi-Fi. But when you live off campus, there are these other things you have to consider.”
Taylor Fox ’24 is in a unique position in terms of the current housing crisis. As the newly elected vice president of Student Assembly, Fox serves as an advocate for the student body on this issue. However, Fox is also currently on the housing waitlist for the second time, after being waitlisted for the 2022-23 school year. She is also a first-generation, low-income student on a full scholarship as a Pell Grant recipient. Fox spoke to the issues that the increased demand from the waitlist illuminates in terms of off-campus housing, especially within the FGLI community.
“I’ve had conversations with my financial aid officer and they have been very helpful and like, ‘Okay, this is how much you’re going to have per month and we’re going to sit with you and budget.’ And I think a lot of outreach needs to be done about that opportunity for students, especially for FGLI students,” Fox said.
She noted that having a trusted, financial advisor resource for FGLI students to use in the search for off-campus housing would be helpful.
“That’s also something that a lot of first-generation low-income students don’t have is that financial planning, that risk planning, when it comes to living off campus,” Fox said. “It’s comforting to have a person like, ‘You know what, I see this rental contract. I don’t think this is going to be the best for you with your money,’ or ‘I see this rental contract and this is concerning.’ So, having a person that would be dedicated to that, would be amazing and it would definitely calm a lot of nerves for FGLI students because they have not done this before.”
Economics and government major Miguel Burford ’23 is currently working on an independent study about the rental market in the city and how student demand affects the market. Burford noted the issue of leasing agreements and how they can negatively affect student renters.
“Students have trouble navigating, getting favorable lease terms and stuff like that, negotiating a favorable rent price or rate that they would be paying,” Burford said. “Because of the way that there’s just such scarcity of these places to live around Williamsburg for students, it’s like you don’t really have a choice. Even if you go to a landlord that has a place that you want to stay in, I mean, you really can’t negotiate with them or try because they’re just going to rent to the next group of students that comes in after you.”
The scarcity of housing surrounding William & Mary is rooted in the lopsided supply and demand in the area. There is an overwhelming demand for low-to-mid range priced rentals in the area within walking distance, and not enough supply of these properties. This has led to a steady increase in the pricing of rentals in the area.
The city’s Affordable Housing Workgroup commissioned CSX Professor of Economics and Public Policy Dr. Sarah Stafford, chair of the William & Mary economics department, to publish affordable housing analyses of the city’s housing market. When summarizing her research, Stafford described that although there are more expensive rentals for the higher income brackets in Williamsburg, rentals aimed at middle- and low-income brackets, which includes students, are more expensive in the direct area surrounding William & Mary than they are further from the campus.
“If you’re really focused on, I would say, the student and the lower to middle-income brackets, there’s an impact on… rentals within walking distance,” Stafford said. “If you go out to the Second Street ones, you can save $100 or more, a significant amount, by moving further away from campus. But it’s really inconvenient and it’s a different kind of setting — there’s lots of families there, there’s just not the same vibe. So I mean, students are clearly increasing prices around the campus, but you’re not going to find the most expensive rentals here because you’ve got that other kind of class of rentals that’s really kind of aimed at the retirees.”
Stafford noted that many of the modern apartment facilities, which students often cannot afford, drive up the overall rental prices in the area, while demand for housing stays at the same, inflated level.
“What we’re doing is adding at the higher level, which is increasing the overall rents,” Stafford said. “There’s not an increase in the number of units that are in the more reasonably priced units. Then you have a lot of competition for those lower priced units, because there are all these individuals in the City of Williamsburg that are really pinched from an income standpoint, as well. So, they’re competing with the students — that’s the families, it’s the people working at CW at a low wage, the people working on campus for a low wage, it’s all the minimum wage workers. So, at that lower price point, there’s just a demand that dramatically exceeds supply.”
The market effect of the high demand for walking-distance off-campus housing in the city has priced some students out of their leases. Areeg Hussein ’24 has lived in a four-bedroom apartment in Current Midtown for the 2022-23 academic year. However, with the increase in Midtown’s rental prices, she decided to not resign her lease, even with a discounted re-signing price, and instead look for a more affordable off-campus option.
“Basically the reason they gave us is because demand is high,” Hussein said. “They kind of pressure you into resigning as quickly as possible. We were only there for two months and they were like, ‘next year all the apartments are going to be gone.’ Which I guess is true because there’s just really not much on campus housing anymore. They basically said like, ‘Rent is going to increase because of this, but we’re giving you a special deal.’ But [with] the special deal still, the rent increases from this year to next year.”
Hussein originally signed her four-bedroom lease starting in July 2022 for $840 and noted that the resigning deal was presented at around $900. According to apartmentfinder.com, the updated pricing for a four-bedroom Current Midtown apartment ranges from $930-$1,045. Current Midtown did not respond to The Flat Hat’s request for comment on increased rent by the time of publication.
Stafford added that another significant issue related to the increase in prices is the investor-led buyout of rental properties. In this phenomenon, outside investors and property management companies will purchase homes and accumulate enough market power to raise rental prices. According to Stafford this issue is not just happening in Williamsburg, but nationally, with pushback in states like California, New York and Connecticut.
“For better or for worse, students are getting a taste of this whole housing crisis that’s hitting,” Stafford said. “I mean, I know it doesn’t help to hear, but it’s not that this is just students that are facing this, it’s basically a national crisis in terms of affordability and housing availability. And this investor-led buyout of rental properties is not helping anything.”
“FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, STUDENTS ARE GETTING A TASTE OF THIS WHOLE HOUSING CRISIS THAT’S HITTING,” STAFFORD SAID. “I MEAN, I KNOW IT DOESN’T HELP TO HEAR, BUT IT’S NOT THAT THIS IS JUST STUDENTS THAT ARE FACING THIS, IT’S BASICALLY A NATIONAL CRISIS IN TERMS OF AFFORDABILITY AND HOUSING AVAILABILITY. AND THIS INVESTOR-LED BUYOUT OF RENTAL PROPERTIES IS NOT HELPING ANYTHING.”
These issues of on-campus waitlists, high student demand for off-campus housing, escalated rental prices close to campus, discrepancies between landlords and tenants surrounding rental agreements and investor-led buyouts of rental properties are not exclusive to the city and William & Mary. In the Summer of 2022, publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education and the FEED, the weekly publication of Georgetown University’s office of advancement, published articles on how these issues affect schools across the nation, including Florida Atlantic University and the University of California, Berkeley.
With the national nature of this housing crisis, there are several precedents for how to deal with certain issues. Burford suggests looking at the Davis Model Lease, a standardized lease contract model between students at UC Davis and landlords in the area of the University, to guide the issue of leasing agreement conflicts between student tenants and landlords.
“Leases are also kind of just randomly organized. So when you’re reading them, there’s no logical flow in what the provisions are telling you. So interestingly, there was in California, they tried implementing something called the Davis Model Lease because of a lot of rent strikes and landlord-tenant disputes… from the University of California [Davis campus],” Burford said.
In a step towards more positive tenant-landlord relations, City Councilman Caleb Rogers ’20 said that the Williamsburg City Council has mentioned the possibility of creating an agreement on lease conditions in the future.
“The City is on a longer-term view, coming up with a landlord leasing program, that we would have in agreement with local landlords, where they would have certain stipulations as preferable leases that could help them with maintenance of the property as far as their tenants were concerned, clauses in there, such as taking down trash and refuse containers on time from the road, let’s say, but also clauses in there about the actual sightliness of their properties and the responsiveness to their tenants,” Rogers said.
Rogers also said that vertical mixed-use commercial and residential developments like Midtown Row have proven efficient and beneficial to students and the Williamsburg community. He further spoke directly to the issue of affordable housing in the city and the work that the council has put in to come up with additional affordable housing options.
“Council over the last, let’s say, five, six years has, I think, really had an emphasis on affordable housing and a few of those projects are a direct benefit to students,” Rogers said. “One example being old and underperforming hotels and motels as of about six years ago, in 2017, were allowed to be converted into lower cost, long-term housing.”
According to Rogers, two projects have come from this hotel-motel conversion in the past six years — The Flats, located just beyond Colonial Williamsburg on York Street, and Willow Creek, off of Second Street.
During her term as vice president of Student Assembly, Fox noted that she plans to work with city council members and city planners like Planning and Codes Compliance Director Tevya Griffin to advocate for students amidst this housing crisis.
“Advocacy looks like having that hard conversation of this is what students are experiencing in off-campus housing, even though they’re paying $1,100, and it’s unacceptable,” Fox said. “And telling students it is okay to voice your concerns. I know you’re worried about evictions. I know you’re worried about not having that house in the future, especially if you’re a junior, you want to keep that lease until your senior year. There’s certain standards that you deserve. And even talking to Tevya, like, there’s certain things that you deserve as a human being with housing that are non-negotiable.”
“ADVOCACY LOOKS LIKE HAVING THAT HARD CONVERSATION OF THIS IS WHAT STUDENTS ARE EXPERIENCING IN OFF-CAMPUS HOUSING, EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE PAYING $1,100, AND IT’S UNACCEPTABLE,” FOX SAID.
Burford recommends that students attend council meetings and tenants’ rights sessions, as well as educate themselves on property laws to be able to advocate for themselves.
Kandell recognized that with the waitlist announcement, ResLife wanted to advertise as many resources as they could to assist students in navigating the off-campus housing arena.
“We began in early October with an email to students that we would have a waitlist and began sharing off-campus fair information,” Kandell wrote in an email. “We encouraged students to think about their housing preferences and have backup plans in place. We held housing information sessions, partnered with the STEP office to host three off-campus fairs and connected students with resources including financial aid office, Card Services and off-campus property managers to help students understand how resources may work on and off campus. We continue to work with students individually and are happy [to] provide resources one on one for any student who reaches out for help and guidance.”
Kandell further explained that the housing model is based on calculated projections in partnership with consultant firm Brailsford and Dunlavey.
“We are right-sizing our housing program to meet the demand and needs for students wanting to live on campus,” Kandell wrote. “Since 2019, we have been working with one of the top planning and development consultant firms in the nation — Brailsford and Dunlavey. They have painstakingly reviewed W&M long-term enrollment projections, the off-campus market in Williamsburg, and surveyed W&M students. With this data, we are confident that remaining steady at 5,000 beds is the best direction for our campus.”
Fox offered her words of support for students concerned about housing.
“It’s going to be okay and you’re not alone in this process,” Fox said “There’s so many people on and off campus that can help you find housing, make sure that it’s in your budget and make sure that you’re getting a lease that’s legally binding, that works for you.”
Listen to The Flat Hat’s recent podcast conversation with Maggie Evans, the College’s Associate Vice President for Campus living, here, for an in-depth Q and A about the housing waitlist and residence life.
This article is presented in partnership with The Flat Hat, William & Mary’s student newspaper since 1911. It covers the university and the surrounding area of Williamsburg, printing on Tuesdays of the academic year.