LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) – At the beginning of the 2021 fall semester, Utah State University made national news when over 300 students were left without housing due to construction delays at a still unfinished off-campus complex called the 800 Block. All the students — some of whom were freshmen new to the area — were left destitute, having to scramble to find accommodations at the last minute.
Some students were able to secure new housing, while others were forced to postpone their education due to lack of housing in Logan, where the school is located. And, despite the fact that the 800 Block debacle is nearly six months past, students say that since then, the housing situation hasn’t improved.
To put it bluntly: “It’s a mess up here,” according to Megan Wilson, a USU senior studying art. Wilson is in her sixth year at the university and has lived both on and off-campus during her tenure at the school. During her various house-hunting experiences over the years — in addition to the struggle of simply finding a viable option — Wilson has found herself priced out, worried about the cleanliness of her accommodations, and in a recent case, concerned for her safety.
During the time immediately after the 800 Block announced the apartments wouldn’t be ready for incoming students, Wilson, too, found herself stuck in the last-minute frantic housing shuffle.
“I ended up in this house and I didn’t know who my roommates were, and it turned out to be a 35-year-old man and a 45-year-old woman,” Wilson recounts. “The house was full of bugs and the management didn’t respond. I felt deeply unsafe.”
And, unfortunately, Wilson’s situation is far from unique. She says that because there simply isn’t enough housing to go around, many students like her are forced into less-than-ideal situations.
Ellie Roberts, a USU junior studying hotel management, says that she recently had to move due to a domestic violence situation with a roommate. Roberts also reported a friend who is currently living with an unsafe roommate, but has thus far been unable to terminate the lease because the landlord has reportedly done nothing to help the situation besides asking for video or recorded documentation of the unsafe situation.
“Finding a place is hard, but finding a safe landing place is even harder,” Roberts says.
USU students also told ABC4 that they are concerned about the cleanliness of their surroundings.
Wilson mentioned the presence of bed bugs in a previous accommodation, in addition to recalling a past instance when a hole was built into the window frame in a room she rented.
“It was like a three-inch-wide hole,” she says. “Every morning, I’d wake up with boxelder bugs in my hair.”
And, if students can find a safe, clean place to stay off campus, it’s often not affordable, Wilson says. According to RentCafé, the average rent in Logan is about $1,600 per month, which is steep for most college students.
Just recently, Wilson said she has had to take on a third job to cover her expenses.
“When you’re working part-time as a student, you feel every penny,” she says. “The best option you have to be able to afford rent is to take out loans or have a wealthy family, which not everyone is so lucky to have.”
So — given the myriad concerns related to securing housing in Logan — on-campus housing seems to be the best option, especially for incoming freshmen who are new to the area.
But, living on campus is not guaranteed.
According to information provided to ABC4 by USU, on-campus housing accounts for about 20% of total housing for students on the Logan campus.
Roberts says that — though she was able to secure on-campus housing for her freshman year — the process was difficult.
“If you don’t do it the first month that housing dorm rooms open, for Utah State, you probably won’t get one; you’re put on a waitlist,” she explains. “It was very difficult to try to get housing my first year.”
And, she says, in addition to housing priority being given to those who already live on campus, upperclassmen who are more familiar with the housing application portal are more likely to secure a spot than freshmen who are unfamiliar with the system.
But, the school is trying, Roberts adds. Although she has dealt with unsafe living situations off campus, she says that on campus she felt “really cared for.” She even adds that, during her domestic violence situation, the school put her up in a hotel until she was able to find a more permanent safe living situation.
And indeed, according to information provided to ABC4.com by USU, the school will open a new on-campus housing facility, Canyon Crest, for the 2022-2023 academic year, which will provide 400 additional beds for students.
“Last fall, we became aware of concerns from students looking at off-campus housing, and we made some accommodations to USU housing facilities to create more rooms for students who wanted to live on campus. Currently, USU Housing has openings for single-student housing for the spring semester,” Amanda DeRito, associate vice president for strategic communications at USU said in a statement.
But Wilson also says that sometimes, the accommodations at the school have issues, too. Not only does she find the pricing — which ranges from $1,565 – $4,500 per semester for the 2022-2023 academic year — to be unfeasible for many, she says there are often maintenance concerns.
“I’ve had a friend, for a couple of years on campus, who every year during Christmas break her sink floods the kitchen with gross, smelly water,” she says. “We finally confronted the maintenance guy about it and he said, ‘It’s just the way the building is built.’”
And, even with the newer, off-campus developments coming in to provide housing for students, the issues are still persisting. According to Wilson, many of these corporate-owned properties — like the 800 Block, owned by California-based developers Nelson Partners — seem to be more interested than making money than filling a need.
“[Logan’s] population is super slided down to low 20s, age-wise. That age gap is really enticing to investors or management companies that are from out of state or just don’t care at all about the students here.” Wilson says. “They just want to build their investment portfolio.”
And unfortunately, the housing situation at USU has given some students no other option but to live in their cars, an anonymous source who is an alumni of the university told ABC4.
“They needed food that they could cook in their car,” the source says. “Just because they couldn’t find housing that would be suitable for them.”
And though the outlook right now seems bleak, Wilson hopes change is on the way for USU students.
She has recently formed the Student Tenants Union, which is a tenant advocacy group for USU students. Through the organization, she hopes to inform students about their rights as tenants and take on larger housing issues as a combined front.
“I started the Student Tenant’s Union to try and fill that gap in educating students about their rights as tenants and advocating and hopefully starting some good trouble,” she says. “A lot of students don’t have access to lawyers or know their rights. I’ve had a bunch of friends ask me what a tenant is, which is not the best when you are one.”
The union’s first order of business, Wilson says, is getting justice for students displaced by Nelson Partners in the 800 Block debacle, and students who Wilson says the property management group continues to take advantage of through predatory management practices, withholding fees, and being unresponsive to tenant concerns. The Student Tenant’s Union has minted a Change.org petition that — upon receiving 200 signatures — will be taken to the Logan City Council.
“Heaven knows there’s plenty of trouble up here and I want to push back on that,” Wilson says. “I’ve got a few stunts planned ahead that I’m really excited about, but I’m hoping that it will be a lasting change.”