“Paid to stop complaining”: Amid housing crunch, College’s $1 million housing lottery sparks frustrations
In order to free up beds this fall, Dartmouth is holding a lottery for $5,000 payments for up to 200 students who are willing to give up their on-campus housing.
As the College prepares for a “fully residential” fall term, student demand for fall on-campus housing has exceeded capacity, according to a June 14 email sent to students from associate dean of residential life Michael Wooten. He also wrote that in response to the housing availability issue, the College is offering a one-time lottery incentive for up to 200 students to withdraw their fall housing request in exchange for a $5,000 payment.
Wooten wrote that interest in living on campus for the fall has “surged” compared to previous fall terms. In an emailed statement, he wrote that the number of students requesting on-campus housing in the fall exceeds the pre-pandemic fall term averages by several hundred students. He added that demand is higher than normal because many study abroad and other off-campus programs are not being offered this fall, as well as the fact that students returning from “pandemic-related gap years” or who have had limited access to campus during the pandemic are “eager to return” to campus.
In the email statement, Wooten wrote that the College was able to add 86 more beds by converting some doubles to triples and some lounges into dorm spaces, measures the College has taken in previous years, he noted. He added that while the College did explore other options, such as hotels and modular housing, they were unable to make use of either option.
“Hotels in our region are not plentiful, and with the easing of COVID restrictions many reservations have been booked well into next year,” Wooten wrote. “Purchasing, permitting and installing modular housing is not possible in the required timeframe.”
Students who enter the lottery but are not selected for the $5,000 payment do not lose their on-campus housing or waitlist spot, the email to campus said.
Students on financial aid should reach out to the financial aid office to determine “whether and how” receiving the $5,000 would affect their aid package , Wooten wrote. He also noted that Dartmouth is required to report the payment to the Internal Revenue Service as taxable income.
Any students remaining on the waitlist after the lottery is concluded will be contacted with more information about what to expect, Wooten wrote. He added that historically, more beds have opened up over the summer as students’ plans have changed.
“We know beds will become available, but we can’t know how many,” he wrote.
Reactions to the fall housing process have been largely negative, reflecting long-running frustration with the housing infrastructure at Dartmouth. Dawn Hensley, a parent of a member of the Class of 2023, said that she felt the College was “woefully ill-prepared” to deal with the fall housing situation, adding that the College has had “decades” to create more on-campus housing options.
“I don’t like the fact that they’re having the students solve the problem,” Hensley said. “By doing this lottery system, they’re pitting students against one another for housing, and that’s painful.”
Nicolas Macri ’24 said that he felt that the excess demand for on-campus housing was a
“predictable” problem, as the College has not built any new dorms since 2006, when Fahey-McLane Halls and the McLaughlin cluster were opened.
The College’s lack of sufficient housing originated following the decision to admit women beginning in 1972, when the College implemented year-round education — now known as the D-Plan — so as to not have to decrease the number of men admitted. The D-Plan aimed to house more students in the same number of dorms.
Macri added that while the College has made proposals to create more housing, there has been little progress towards these plans. Construction on a dorm complex at the site currently occupied by House Center A — commonly known as “The Onion” — and several tennis courts was put on hold by the pandemic, for example.
“I feel like the lottery this year is intended to be a short-term solution for a long-term problem,” Macri said. “Rather than investigate hotels or other housing options, it feels like they’ve been kicking the can down the road.”
Some housing construction is occurring: A 309-apartment complex to house graduate students near Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is expected to be completed in 2022 and may help to alleviate a housing shortage that extends throughout the Upper Valley.
While many students received on-campus housing, others were placed on a waitlist for the fall. Anders Knospe ’23 said that he felt frustrated when he found out that he was not granted fall housing and was further confused when he heard about the lottery for the $5,000 payment. He added that he is now looking for places to stay off-campus near Hanover for the fall so that he can still take classes. Knospe noted that he needs to be enrolled in the fall so that he can graduate on time and said he does not want to enroll in an additional non-summer off term.
“The $5,000 payment feels like you’re being paid to stop complaining,” he said.
Knospe added that while he has “scoured” websites like Dartlist to find an apartment, he has not yet been able to find an off-campus apartment within walking distance of campus. He is now looking into housing options further from campus, to and from which he may need to travel via moped or electric bike.
“I want to be on campus so badly, and it is frustrating that I need to look into buying a moped to drive 25 minutes to campus,” Knospe said. “I’m also frustrated that this might not be the last term I need to deal with this, because [the housing situation] is a problem that Dartmouth has been okay with for a long time.”
Students have until Monday at 5 p.m. to decide whether they wish to participate in the lottery and, if they are on the waitlist, whether they wish to remain on it.