On Apr. 30, the Eckerd College Housing Office sent an email to all students saying the ongoing need to reserve rooms for quarantine cases and the high volume of students needing on-campus housing “suggests that our available housing inventory will not be sufficient to meet student demand.” On May 19, another email stated there would be a $1,000 grant for the first 75 students who signed an agreement to live off campus by Monday, June 7.
According to Associate Director of Housing William Otto, there are 86 beds in West Lodge and Sigma reserved for quarantine spaces. He suspects that these vacated rooms and the college’s decision to return to only in-person classes created an unusual shortage of available on-campus housing. The arrival of over 700 new students also means there is less space on campus than in previous years.
The Housing Office’s prediction about a lack of housing proved to be true as Room Draw in June began. The first dorm available for Room Draw was Omega, which has 33 suites across its three floors. According to an email on June 9, approximately 70 groups applied for a suite, leaving over half of the applicants to find alternative housing.
Junior Bella Ionatta and four seniors -- Anita Rothenstreich, Leila Koenig, Michael Puciul and Melody Esquivel -- applied for Omega and received an email on Thursday, June 10 that stated they would be selecting a suite number on Saturday, June 12 at 12:30 p.m. However, on Saturday, they were contacted again and were told they could no longer pick a suite and they were on the waitlist.
“I only wanted to live on campus if I could live in an apartment style dorm, which is literally just Omega,” Ionatta said. “I couldn’t live in a single bedroom with another person anymore. I’m 21. I can’t do that.”
The day Ionatta found out she did not get an Omega room, she wanted to apply for the $1,000 housing grant to move off campus, but the application had closed five days prior.
According to Otto, the grant application was purposely closed before Room Draw because the housing office wanted a clear picture of how many students were going to be applying for on campus housing.
“On Saturday, housing left us a voicemail saying we were third on the waitlist. So I called Billy Otto and I was like, ‘Can you do math?’” Ionatta said. “What does choosing a room mean to you? Because to me, that means I get a room.”
Ionatta then moved off campus to the Flagler Pointe apartment complex in St. Petersburg where she pays about $900 per month for rent and utilities. She said she also spends much more on food and gas than she did when she lived on campus.
According to Otto, the housing office anticipates students dropping out during the calling process if they do not get their desired suite, so they reserve slots for a number of groups that exceeds the number of available suites.
“In the past, we have had students who didn’t want rooms like 101, so they dropped out during that process so the next person in line would have gotten that call,” Otto said. “Going back on that, we definitely could have done it differently.”
Junior Joe Salcedo said he and his roommate, Andrew Wynn, decided to move off-campus when the $1,000 incentive was announced because they believed it would be more cost-effective to live together in an apartment near campus.
Salcedo and Wynn live in The Wave Condos in St. Petersburg, which is located just under two miles from campus. They each pay about $650 in rent, which Salcedo said would be less than paying over $9,000 in an apartment-style dorm on campus for the school year.
“We each got the $1,000 so combined we had $2,000 each,” Salcedo said. “I would say it’s a pretty fair amount, but I think if you were to ask me next year I would say it’s not, just because rent is going up across the board.”
Students who decided to live on campus are also experiencing the effects of limited resources and a small Housing Department staff.
Sophomore Nancy Strever planned on spending this semester at the London Study Centre, but after the trip was canceled in August, she had to contact housing to find a dorm before she moved in at the beginning of September.
According to Strever, Otto had told her not to apply to Room Draw because he thought the trip would not get cancelled.
Strever said she contacted the housing office in August to request a double room for herself and a friend, and was offered a single room in Iota. However, when Strever received the semester bill, she did not see a charge for a room. Upon calling the housing office, Otto informed her that the single in Iota was no longer available.
“I guess they needed the room for accessibility purposes, which I get it, obviously they need to have first priority,” Strever said. “But if I had known they were going to take me out of that room, maybe I would have tried to get a double in another dorm.”
Stever is currently living in the Beta guest room, which is normally reserved for emergency housing purposes.
“[Otto] said that I had to be put in the Beta guestroom temporarily because there was no other place. I opened the door to see the fire detector beeping. . .there were no blinds. . . the toilet stopped flushing and the shower doesn’t drain,” Strever said.
She believes the maintenance staff did not clear the guest room over the summer because they did not think anyone would live in the room.
According to Otto, there is a shortage of staff for facilities and housekeeping services, so work orders and other complaints may take longer to get fulfilled. Otto said he understands students’ frustrations with housing, but he needs to optimize the campus’ space as much as possible.
“This is a great place because we have so many students who want to stay on campus and I understand that, but there comes a time when we have to allow first-years to live on campus,” Otto said. “A lot of these decisions are made by the administration. I am just the messenger of all the bad news.”
Otto hopes that in the future, housing will be an easier, more satisfying process, especially because Eckerd will begin using a new housing software next year called Starrez, which will automatically organize students by their class standing and allow students to go through the list and pick their own rooms based on their standing.