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Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald , Published August 20 2012

UND students face housing crunch

GRAND FORKS - When Tyler Leben moved to Grand Forks last week from Florida to attend UND, he didn’t imagine his only option would be living in a hotel.

At the start of summer, Leben, 27, who owns a dog, called campus housing and was told nothing was available since policy states that pets, except for fish, are not allowed in the residence halls.

After unsuccessfully contacting 15 to 20 people, including Craigslist users, he figured he’d find something when he arrived on Tuesday. By then, campus housing staff “said that they didn’t have anything available, even if I didn’t have a pet,” he said.

Leben is one of several incoming students this fall who have had troubles finding housing. This may be due to growing enrollment and fewer available apartments in the city, said Judy Sergent, director of residence services.

“It feels like there’s a little bit more pressure this year to find a space,” she said. “We have spaces available for women on a limited basis, and I would say we are in an overflow situation for male students in residence halls.”

It’s also not a new problem. UND had an arrangement last year for students to stay in hotels, but didn’t need to use it, said Cindy Spencer, residence life and education director.

Leben said the housing office gave him information on local real estate agencies, but he couldn’t find anything within his means that accepted pets in Grand Forks or the surrounding area. He wound up staying at two hotels after he first got into town, the cheaper of which was $80 a night, he said.

“I was very surprised I wasn’t able to find a place,” said Leben, a first-year aeronautical science student. “I actually thought about putting my dog on an airplane and sending him back home to get a place to stay.”

Housing crunch

On Friday, UND’s housing office reported a fluid number of 3,181 students in the residence halls, which can hold a maximum of 3,200. At one point, the university had a waiting list with 21 men on it, but has since been able to accommodate the requests, Spencer said.

While no enrollment numbers are available yet — the figure will be released Wednesday, and the official tally taken four weeks from now — UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the figures are positive.

“We’re looking at a very large number of incoming students, as well as returning students,” he said.

At North Dakota State University in Fargo, residence hall overflow amounted to around 20 female freshmen, said Rian Nostrum, director of residence life. The campus’ reported enrollment last year was 14,399.

All upperclassmen have been accommodated, and that’s a very small number compared to most years, he said. The university built a new batch of about 150 student apartments two years ago.

“We’re actually in really good shape this year,” he said.

New practices

By Monday, 15 rooms on UND’s campus designed for three students — but normally housing two — were full. Campus administration had started planning for the increase last November, and decided to change its room occupancy policy this year to accommodate students.

“We were hearing that they wouldn’t be able to come to the university,” said Spencer. “We were also working with some students who were only 17, and those students wouldn’t be eligible to sign a lease. We were really asking how we can better accommodate those who have been accepted to UND, and how we can give them the best housing.”

In another recent change with the growing enrollment, campus administration is no longer guaranteeing housing, which it did since at least the early ‘80s.

“That’s something we had to re-evaluate, basically,” said Sergent.

Housing shortages are not new to UND. Sergent, who has worked at UND for about 30 years, said special circumstances like the Flood of 1997 have affected availability, as has the impact of Grand Forks Air Force Base.

“It goes in cycles,” she said. “It’s just an upswing. Enrollment, we’re assuming, will be up from what it was last year, so the housing situation obviously follows that.”

Leben is now staying in the basement of a friend here he met through an international running group. Although the space is small — they’re living in a house converted into apartments — he’s grateful and plans to stay there the remainder of the year, he said.

“It worked out pretty well,” he said.

Sergent said their office recommends incoming students apply for campus apartments six months early, as the supply becomes available in May and the demand is strongest in August.