MSU Students Face Housing Crisis After School Closes On-Campus Housing

Aug 22, 2020

There was some chaos this week for students at Michigan State University. They were preparing to move into residence halls when the school announced undergraduate classes would move online and on-campus housing would be closed, leaving many thousands of students in a housing lurch. 

A version of this story aired on NPR's Weekend Edition.

 

It was Tuesday afternoon that MSU students planning to live either on campus or off campus were told to stay home. The last minute announcement affects nearly 40,000 students. 15,000 of them were planning to live on campus and many had already paid for their fall semester housing.  

 

Sue Garza is the parent of both an incoming freshman and a senior at MSU. She’s both disappointed and a bit confused by the last minute change.  

 

“I'm not really sure what's going to happen, I don't know if our, our loan will be decreased. I don't know if they'll receive a refund.” Garza said. “Everything's kind of up in the air.”  

 

Residence Halls Close 

 

While school officials say they’ll be issuing refunds, there are some students whose only housing option is to live on campus. According to university spokesperson Emily Gerkin Guerrant, there will be housing options available for those that need to live on campus because of a job, or if there is an unsafe situation at home. But they can only accommodate fewer than 3,000 students.   

 

“We do not have a specific number that we’re working towards or against. Additional information went out late yesterday to all the individuals who had planned to live in our residence halls about cancelling their contracts, refund process (or crediting towards future) and also a process to allow those who need remain in the residence halls a path to do so," Gerkin Guerrant said in a statement. 

 

Aleaha Smith is a senior and a resident assistant. She moved into her dorm last Saturday and was planning to take all her courses online but now says that’s all up in the air. For her, the option of moving back home is complicated.    

Aleaha Smith's re-packed bags after moving in.
Credit Aleaha Smith

“There is a lot of family dynamics that are going on,” Smith explained. "If you are staying in your parents' home, there are other responsibilities you have to take care of and I can't take care of those on top of schooling."

Students and Off-Campus Housing

For the 24,000 off-campus students the news brings a different kind of stress. When senior Jay Gooden found out that MSU was going fully online he reached out to his apartment’s property management company asking if he could get out of his lease.    

 

“They wouldn't let me out of my lease. They told me that I would have to find a subletter to pay the rent until I could find somebody to take over the lease,” Gooden said. “And I couldn't find anybody that was willing to do that.”  

 

MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. says the university will be encouraging local property management companies to discuss options with students, but can’t intervene on off-campus housing.  

Benches at Michigan State University encouraging social distancing.
Credit Taylor Haelterman

“My hope is the landlords in the area will be receptive to students who are caught. Particularly those who may be in financial need, it's something we're talking to them about,” Stanley said. “You know, we really are concerned about students who may have been caught by this.”  

East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens expects that most of the more than 24,000 students who signed leases for apartments will have to stay put.  

“We are going to really encourage property managers and landlords to, if not let them get out of their lease completely, give a little bit of accommodation. Maybe give a decrease in payment or that might be an extension of time to pay off that debt,” Stephens shared.  

Stephens says that those students struggling financially are eligible to apply to receive up to $2,000 to help pay rent through a new partnership with the Capital Area Housing Partnership

"As a 24 year old who lives in the city of East Lansing, I rent and it costs a good amount of my paycheck. I understand it and I wanted to make sure we prioritize helping those who can't pay rent," said Stephens. 

That’s cold comfort for students like Jay Gooden and Aleaha Smith who made housing decisions before quarantining, and now only two weeks before their first classes are scrambling to come up with plan B.