In a continuously unpredictable environment, UF students remain conflicted as they determine where to live during the Spring.
COVID-19-related apartment vacancies, as well as excitement and uncertainty surrounding the increase of in-person classes this Spring, are forcing UF students and Gainesville apartments alike to continue adjusting to housing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spring-only leases opened for on-campus housing for students planning on returning to Gainesville next semester. As of Sunday, there have been 432 new agreements, Sara Tanner, director of marketing and strategic communications for UF’s Division of Student Affairs, wrote in an email.
In a typical year, about 8,000 students live in residence halls, Tanner wrote. For the Fall, there were only 5,609 residence hall agreements.
“We expect to return to normal occupancy in Fall 2021,” she wrote.
Sam Dillon, a 25-year-old UF physics and mathematics senior, said he stayed home in Destin, a city about halfway between Pensacola and Panama City, for Fall. All his classes were online, and he didn’t want to pay rent in Gainesville, he said.
“The search for housing has been very easy,” Dillon said. “Many people are trying to sublease their apartments, and landlords seem desperate to fill their units as well.”
Now that some of his classes are in person, Dillon said he is eager to return. He posted on a subleasing page that he needs a room and has received interest from other UF students.
The UF subleasing Facebook group currently has about 19,600 members as of Sunday and shows new posts hourly from students searching for people to fill their rooms.
One such student is Makenna Boose, a 19-year-old UF applied physiology and kinesiology sophomore. Boose is trying to move home to Miramar, a city in southern Broward County, for the Spring. She is trying to sublease her room for $845 in a two-bedroom and two-bathroom unit at Campus Circle, 1742 SW 38th Terrace.
She had just one class on campus in Fall, and she is trying to avoid taking one in Spring.
“I just feel more comfortable at home,” Boose said.
She also worries about becoming infected with COVID-19 through classes, she said.
Boose has been trying to find someone to sublease her room for about a month and a half by posting in Facebook groups. She said she has accrued no legitimate interest.
Despite the dozens of apartments already located near UF, at least six new luxury apartments were built near campus this year. Since 2013, 4,695 apartments totaling 11,945 bedrooms have been built or approved in Gainesville, according to the Gainesville Sun.
But many apartments aren’t full. According to their websites, new complexes Hub Third Ave., Hub University, Aero on 24th, Campus Circle and Midtown Apartments are still accepting applications for this school year, some offering incentives to sign such as a month of free rent or a waived signing fee.
It’s hard to judge whether the money made from expensive rent is enough to outweigh the negative effects of this year’s low occupancy rates, Wayne R. Archer, executive director of UF’s Kelley A. Bergstrom Real Estate Center, said.
“They’re way higher than I expected,” Archer said of the vacancy rates.
But as COVID-19 cases rise, there is still uncertainty among students about whether classes will remain in-person next academic year. Meanwhile, students are urged to re-sign year-long leases by their apartment complexes.
Ursula Duran, a 19-year-old UF accounting sophomore, has lived at Hub Third Ave since it opened this Fall.
Duran said she’s received emails saying if she didn’t renew her lease in October, she could be moved into a different unit or have her rent increased.
“I don’t think it’s fair for apartments to apply pressure to re-sign early in unsure times,” Duran said. “For some people it would be a waste to live in Gainesville and not be going to classes.”
Richard Schackow is the landlord of an apartment complex off of Southwest 13th Street containing four separate three-bedroom and one-bathroom units. His building is in the process of being sold, so he said he hasn’t been renting out his units during the pandemic.
Schackow, who has been a landlord for over 40 years, said it’s important to him to communicate with tenants. He said he has worked with tenants to sublease their space or let them end their leases early in situations like graduating early or moving for work.
Tenants and landlords must work together regarding the future, he said. This could include adding the option for residents to sublease their space in the event they need to move out of Gainesville.
He also stresses the importance of renters looking into leasing agreements of multiple properties to understand the commitment they’re making.
“It needs to work both ways,” Schackow said. “I like to treat tenants fair so they respect my property and I respect their interests.”