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Editorial: The Housing Lottery is a mess

The Housing Lottery starts this Thursday, adding another headache-inducing ordeal to a month already filled to the brim with projects, papers and tests. Selecting on-campus housing should be a fairly straightforward process. In reality, it is a mess. The buildup to selection day leads to breakdowns, as students dig through inadequate resources to build their battle plans. When the day arrives, some students end up in tears ― or worse, late assignment housing.

Rationing limited on-campus housing will never be a perfect process. Some students are bound to end up unhappy regardless. But the University’s current management of the Housing Lottery is so opaque and unhelpful that it needlessly damages student well-being.

The problems start with the Office of Residential Life’s communication, or lack thereof. There is no source of clear and accessible information about how housing selection really works. The rules can be difficult to navigate. Certain rooms and suites can only be filled by groups of a specific size. Floor plans can be hard to decipher. The rooms reserved for special accommodations can be unclear to students and program housing can shift unexpectedly between years, making housing even more unpredictable.

Brown’s official resources are unhelpful, to say the least. ResLife’s webpage for Housing Selection includes a barebones timeline and overview of the process, and little else. The bottom of the page currently reads: “Specific information about eligibility, group formation, selection times and housing options will be added to this page as we get (closer) to the Housing Selection dates in March and April.” With March already behind us and selection day a mere two days away, we have yet to see any such information added to the page.

While students can glean some information about the Housing Lottery through periodic reminder emails from ResLife and the housing portal, this information is incomplete. In general, the details of the process are decentralized.

As a result, a cottage industry of sorts for housing information has emerged as students try to fill the gaps left by the University. Around this time each year, panicked students bombard online forums and older friends with questions about how to navigate the lottery. Fully functional online housing catalogs have been built by students in order to help their peers make sense of the mess. But Brown Bear Dens, one of these websites, includes a crucial disclaimer at the top: “Some rooms may not be available during the Housing Lottery.”

Simply put, information coming from students is variable and does not come directly from the University. If a group of students, albeit talented ones, can build an effective and helpful housing guide, why can’t our University do the same using up-to-date information? At the very least, Brown should publish more guidance about available housing, policy updates and selection procedures on its website. Yet its present promise of “specific information” remains unfulfilled.

Any discussion of the Housing Lottery must also mention the dreaded late assignment housing process. In some ways, it is a necessary evil, allowing the University to fill in the last dregs of housing with students whose preferences cannot be preserved during the initial housing selection process.

But the problem with late assignment, like the Housing Lottery in general, is that it is needlessly unpleasant, largely due to communication failures. According to the Housing Selection website, the current timeline for late assignment is “To Be Determined.” What does late assignment actually entail? Where will students live? When will they find out? Who will they live with? The answers to these questions are not readily accessible, leaving students in the dark.

All of these frustrations are symptoms of bigger problems: vastly unequal housing conditions, as we have noted in the past, that make housing selection high-stakes for students and an Office of Residential Life that seems to be out of touch with student needs. These issues will all require big solutions.

Today, we only ask for a small fix: improve the Housing Lottery.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s Editorial Page Board. This editorial was written by its editor Johnny Ren ’23 and members Catherine Healy ’22, Caroline Nash ’22.5, Augustus Bayard ’24, Devan Paul ’24 and Kate Waisel ’24.



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