UT’s restrictions on emergency housing defeat its purpose

On March 17, it was announced that the UT campus would be shut down for the rest of the spring 2020 semester. All classes would move online, and all students living in on-campus dormitories would have to leave by March 30.

As a result, over 7,000 students were uprooted. Many were able to move out and return to their homes outside of UT, but others did not have reasonable housing options to turn to. To accommodate the students who were suddenly left without a place to live, UT offered emergency housing contracts for the remainder of the semester.

However, the stringent restrictions they placed on who would be granted emergency contracts prevented many students in need from receiving this lifeline. 

One student told us their family lives in New York City — the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States — and that their parents urged them to apply for emergency housing after it was announced that dorms would close. University Housing and Dining rejected them, and they now live in a more expensive unit in West Campus.

They told us they were at least happy that less fortunate students received it over them. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Of the over 140 students who applied for emergency housing, only 88 were approved. That means nearly 40% of applicants were denied.

It wasn’t for lack of space. Justin Jaskowiak, assistant director for residence life for UHD, said that there were “hundreds” of eligible rooms in San Jacinto, the dormitory UT chose to use for emergency housing. Instead, students in need of housing were denied due to needlessly strict requirements on who could receive an emergency contract.

According to Jaskowiak, emergency housing contracts were only made available to students who had no home to go back to. The emergency housing application describes this as students in the foster system, independent students, students without a permanent address, students from home communities that are quarantined, and students whose home environments are either unsafe or unable to accommodate the technology needed for online classes. If a student had a home they could go to, even if they would face extreme inconvenience to do so, UHD rejected their emergency housing application. 

Jaskowiak said that UHD was following UT President Gregory Fenves’ instruction that “the best place for students to go is home.” Clearly, campus housing isolated from friends, family and loved ones is not ideal. We believe the over 140 students who applied knew what was in their best interests more than the University. Any student who applied for emergency housing made the calculation and decided the dorms were their best option. 

We’ve heard stories of students being forced to drive thousands of miles home after UHD rejected their emergency housing application. Others are putting themselves in financially risky situations by seeking housing in West Campus. This is unacceptable, and these are only the few stories we know of. 

Maybe home is the best place for UT students to be during the coronavirus pandemic. For at least 140 students, it wasn’t. UT failed to accommodate students in need when they had the resources to do so. We have said it before: In a global pandemic, compassion is the only reasonable response. Chasing the illusion of “rationality” above all else only comes at the price of students.

The editorial board is composed of associate editors Abhirupa Dasgupta, Hannah Lopez, Sanika Nayak, Abby Springs and editor-in-chief Spencer Buckner.