Max Fattal / Sun Associate Editor

April 16, 2024

You Are All Athletes: Finding Housing Is Now a Competitive Sport

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Let’s face it: Cornell students already navigate the labyrinth of academics, clubs, job search and the continuous on and off alarms every morning. On top of all that, every Cornellian is now an athlete —  D1 for the competitive sport of “securing housing.” This ordeal is not penned into the semesterly curriculum. Yet, it forms the most integral part of our university experience, hitting us with the harsh realities of life at an early age. The first race is about who can reach the on-campus housing slots; the second is about what kind of housing, and the third, which involves several subraces, is the availability of affordable off-campus housing. 

In an ostensibly helpful gesture, Cornell provided a head-start for upperclassmen to claim priority in on-campus housing, prompted by the exorbitant rates of apartments off-campus. The result was fleeting, as one’s opportunity to click through the obstacles of ‘crashes’ during three days seemed almost impregnable. Those unable to secure a place were left with no choice but to go to a longer race route that was costly, timely and not as jolly. A studio at the Student Agencies Building near South Campus charges $3000 (650 square feet) monthly, not far from a staggering $4768 (708 square feet) in Manhattan. 

After consulting with several students, I learned that people weren’t asking for much  — a bedroom, a working laundry room and a bathroom. Off-campus racers did not limit these. On-campus racers continuously try to register for dorms that have more than three working laundry machines in the basement. These amenities do not break down as quickly, and properly working air conditioning. A disparity in maintenance between on-campus housing seems unreasonable and frustrating for those who pay the same housing fee in their tuition. To some, housing applications feel like spilling over a landslide.  

Those who resort to comparably cheaper off-campus housing must pay for apartments marred with inadequacies, giving up on parking and amenities to avoid excessive costs. The façade of the easy route is hidden with thorns and weights of bills paired with inadequate job opportunities to accommodate all.  Professional insights chart the course forward as we seek immediate and effective action. Prof. Nicholas J. Klein, City and Regional Planning, states, “The lack of off-campus housing for Cornell students is exacerbating the housing shortage and affordability problems throughout Ithaca. Cornell needs to build more student housing, and Ithaca needs more housing. Off-campus, the city could do more to increase the housing supply and improve housing affordability through zoning reforms. For example, the city could update their zoning regulations to eliminate single-family housing, make it easier to develop accessory dwelling units, and eliminate parking minimums.” 

Reflecting on my performance as a housing athlete, I did not make it to the end of the eight routes when I was first admitted. My story is not unique; countless comrades like me were assigned to the leftover dorms. It’s a clear indication of the University’s flawed housing system and creates a level of stress like the notorious frustration of finals week. 

The housing plight does not reflect the under preparation of the “ athletes” — the root causes are the race designers. The competitive nature of the most basic needs of securing housing reflects the Ivy League glamor, where success in careers and academia is prioritized. The race is a reminder that the young would-be pitted with systematic inadequacies everywhere. As Cornell thinks about the future of discovering, preserving and disseminating knowledge, the institution should provide roofs over these innovative heads. Education is not only about the book’s characters but also about guiding incremental chapter-based understanding of life. 

Heilani Kim is a second-year student in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. She can be reached at [email protected].