Off-campus housing in La Crosse upsurges as students cancel housing contracts and move off-campus

Image+retrieved+from+UWL+off-campus+housing+Facebook+group%2C+shows+Biondo+apartments+on+La+Crosse+Street.

Image retrieved from UWL off-campus housing Facebook group, shows Biondo apartments on La Crosse Street.

Sophie Byrne, General Assignment Reporter

Typically during the fall semester at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse off-campus housing companies are busy with house and apartment showings and landlords are negotiating leases for the next school year. This year is no different, although instead of searching for housing starting June 1 or later in the summer, the current demand is for housing available immediatelyDue to COVID-19 concerns, many on-campus students have been prompted to cancel their housing contracts and either find available off-campus housing or move home for the semester.  

UWL residence halls provide housing for 3,400 students and staff. Prior to the beginning of the 2020 fall semesterUWL residence life modified their housing contract cancellation request policy. Previously, housing contract cancellation requests were reviewed every two weeks and only granted under extreme extenuating circumstances that rendered a student unable to remain on campus. 

As a result of COVID-19, UWL is now reviewing and granting cancellation requests at much higher rates. Due to the ongoing nature of this situation, an exact number of how many cancellations have occurred is not available. However, according to information presented by Director of Residence Life Jenni Brundage in a September student associate senate meeting, housing contract cancellations already numbered in the hundreds over a month ago.  

The Racquet Press spoke to a few formerly-on-campus students about their experiences with canceling their housing contracts and finding alternate housing.  

UWL sophomore Kate Lochner lived in Eagle Hall prior to deciding to move home for the remainder of the semester. “I decided to move off campus because I felt that residence life wasn’t doing enough to keep students in the dorms safe. For example, my roommate tested positive and I tested negativebut we had to live together anyway because residence life didn’t have a place for her to isolate,” she said.  

Lochner said she felt unsafe all throughout Eagle Hall. “Just walking through the halls or using the elevator, you were constantly at risk of coming in contact with another student who could have been positive,” she said. 

Lochner said that another drawback was the meal plan. “You pay quite a bit of money to have lots of choices and different options for meals, but that was completely restricted, and we were not given any money back. Financially, living in the dorms seemed unrealistic.” Lochner requested to cancel her housing contract on Sept. 21, was approved by Sept. 23, and moved out on Sept. 26 

“I decided to move home rather than find a place off-campus due to financial reasons, plus all of my classes were online anyways,” Lochner said. In addition, COVID-19 cases in La Crosse were on the rise and it felt way safer to be home.” Lochner lives in a small town in northern Wisconsin which is not experiencing the volume of COVID-19 cases that La Crosse is. Lochner said, “Pretty much everyone I know who a student at UWL either tested positive themselves or came into contact with someone who was positive.”  

Lochner plans to move back to La Crosse for the 2021 spring semester and is currently searching for housing.  

UWL juniors Cait McReavy, Evelyn Gaunt, and Grace Tarara lived on-campus in Reuter Hall, along with their fourth roommate who declined to comment. The four roommates were in the process of looking for housing for next year when UWL went into a shelter-in-placeprompting them to worry about the possibility of a total shutdown, similar to what happened in March. 

Additionally, the roommates said they felt unsafe living in Reuter Hall due to the spike in COVID-19 cases in the residence halls. Gaunt said, “The primary reason I decided to cancel my contract was because of the living conditions set forth in Reuter. There were a crazy amount of restrictions that they required, and it seriously felt like almost living in a prison.” Restrictions included changes in the meal plan, the banning of any guests, and the halting of mail.  

McReavy said that the roommates’ decision to move off campus was very sudden. “When we were put under shelter-in-place, my roommates and I were panicking not knowing if we could still go to work or get groceries,” she said. “We started looking for housing the [same] day.” 

Gaunt said of the process to find housing, “I knew this would be really hard to find because that is not how the housing market usually works hereyou have to sign leases half a year in advance.  

The roommates said that they looked for housing via the UW-La Crosse Off-Campus Housing Facebook group, which is a private group designated for students and landlords to advertise and find housing. They said that they ultimately found the house that they are now living in on Zillow. McReavy said, “When we saw the listing on Zillow, I called the owner almost immediately. We went to see the place two hours later and signed a lease a few days later. That Sunday we moved in.”  

Their contract cancellation requests were all granted within 48 hours, but the process of refunding their semesterly tuition was not so easy for the roommates. “Two weeks after I canceled my contract and moved out, my roommates and I got an email from our old RA telling us that even though we’d completed the checkout on their end, we were still listed as Reuter residents,” McReavy said. “I had to email housing for them to fix the issue.” As of these interviews, McReavy and Gaunt are both still waiting for their refund processes to be finalized, just shy of a month after they moved out. Tarara said, “Overall, I’m saving about $1,000 a year to live off-campus.” 

The roommates said that the move out process was extremely stressful for all of them. McReavy said, “It all felt pretty surreal. My roommates and I kept looking at one another like, ‘Are we actually doing this?’”  

Gaunt said that moving and trying to furnish a house were difficulties none of them were prepared for. “Moving is hard and stressful enough, let alone when you also have a full class schedule at the same time,” she said. “We bought tons of stuff from Facebook Marketplace and sites like Craigslist. Even though we split the cost of the furniture between my three other roommates and I, this was still an extremely expensive process.” 

McReavy said despite the “logistical nightmare” of this process, “I love my new living situation. To be honest, I feel a lot safer now than I did living on campus.” 

Tarara said that suddenly having monthly rent and utilities to pay is not ideal but she doesn’t regret her decision. “I think that the space and freedom of living off-campus is worth it.” 

Gaunt added, “I love our new house, it is incredible and 100,000 times better than how we were living in Reuter.” 

The Racquet Press reached out to several realtors in La Crosse to ask about increased housing demands but did not receive any comment.  

If you are a student searching for off-campus housing, check out Student Association’s website for a list of local landlords and realtors.  

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