The race for student housing

Sackville has many special and unique characteristics to offer students, from the small town yet youthful atmosphere to the hidden gem that is Silver Lake, to noble sandstone brick buildings, to European-style sandwiches. But it also has the dubious distinction of requiring students to search for housing twelve months in advance.

A full year. What the hell?

Now, not all off-campus houses get snatched up in September. But if you haven’t signed a lease by Christmas, your chances of finding a nice place to live rapidly deteriorate. I have heard many stories of students literally running to houses trying to sign leases. This leads to undue stress for many, especially for first year students who do not want to live in residence the following year. Trying to contact landlords and coordinate with your new friends (with whom you aren’t yet quite sure that you want to live), all while dealing with the stress of your first year of university, would be frustrating for anyone.

So why does it happen? It’s not a shortage of housing. If there weren’t enough places for students to live, the university would not have closed the satellite houses and Bigelow House. The problem here is one that Robert Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University, writes about in his book, The Darwin Economy:

The problem is individuals pursuing their own self-interest which leads to outcomes that aren’t beneficial for the group.

Frank’s example from the animal world is the elk. Elk fight for mates using their antlers, and on average, the bigger antlers win. So it happens that the big-antlered elk get to spread their seed more than little-antlered elk. Over time, the average antler size becomes bigger. This happens from pursuing self-interest, but bigger antlers are not good for the group as a whole. It’s harder to run through trees and away from wolves with a wider set of antlers.

The same thing happens with housing. Students recognize that of all the houses available, some are much better than others. It is in their self-interest to get that lease first, prompting them to start their housing search just a bit earlier than everyone else. We all know this, so we all have to start searching earlier, and thus begins the proverbial arms race of how early students begin looking for housing. We would all be better off as a group if we collectively agreed to wait until March before beginning the race. But there will always be someone who tries to start early. Thus, the race for student housing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles