UTC, Southern launch new initiatives in response to housing crunch

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Students walk by a sign for the Off-Campus Housing Fair on the University of Tennessee Chattanooga campus in Thursday, October 26, 2023.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Students walk by a sign for the Off-Campus Housing Fair on the University of Tennessee Chattanooga campus in Thursday, October 26, 2023.


At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's first Off-Campus Housing Fair, students tested their skills on a fire extinguisher simulator after talking with emergency service providers, met with local property owners and collected giveaways from on-campus resources.

The Thursday event was part of the university's efforts to provide more support to students looking for off-campus housing and connect them with all of the resources they might need for their first time living on their own.

The university has always had a need for off-campus housing and is working to be more intentional about the way it partners with both students and off-campus residences, said Brett Fuchs, the associate dean of students. Around two-thirds of UTC undergraduates typically live off campus.

"It's just a realization that we need to focus on resources for those students even more than we have in the past," Fuchs said in a phone interview, "to make a centralized place for them to know where to go to get access to that information and to look rather than sending them in many different directions."

As the demand for on-campus housing grows and enrollment increases, both UTC and Southern Adventist University are implementing new strategies to ensure every student has housing. The two universities welcomed their largest freshman classes in school history this fall.

 

Requests for on-campus housing at UTC continue to grow as rental prices have gone up in Chattanooga, Fuchs said. At Southern, Dennis Negron, the vice president of student development, has seen the percentage of students living on campus increase over the past 10 years for similar reasons.

On-campus housing can be cheaper for students, especially because they don't need to pay rent for months they're not in school. At UTC, on-campus housing ranges from $2,955 to $4,886 per semester. It ranges from $2,530 to $2,785 at Southern.

In Chattanooga, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment increased 7.4% in the past year to $1,310 a month, while the rate for two-bedroom apartments rose by 7.1% to an average rent of $1,500 a month, according to a Zumper national rent report.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga rent increases outpace most cities)

Both universities' residencies are at around 100% capacity this fall.

"If we had the same percentage of students from 10 years ago, then we wouldn't be having a housing crunch," Negron said in a phone interview. "The good news is, we've been able to handle it right now. It's the future years, if our enrollment continues to grow, then we would have a problem."

This fall, Southern implemented a couple of new housing measures to make room for its growing student body. The biggest adjustment was that some upperclassmen apartments that have typically housed three students added an extra resident. The apartments have always had room for four residents but lacked the necessary parking to accommodate them, Negron said.

To alleviate the parking issue, the university created a new shuttle system that transports students between the apartments and campus.

At UTC, Fuchs hoped the Off-Campus Housing Fair would help students find affordable housing where they could contribute to the community. He's heard from students that finding housing, especially units in their price range or desired distance from campus, has become more difficult.

"I think part of our struggle ... is that the housing market is so busy in Chattanooga currently that students aren't as much of a focus, especially farther away from campus," Fuchs said.

The housing fair falls under UTC's new Off-Campus Student Services program, which provides support and resources to students interested in or currently living off campus and educates them on their rights and responsibilities as renters.

That program also partnered with College Pads — an online tool that helps students find housing and connect with potential roommates — to create a "one-stop shop" for students to access those resources. Since it launched this summer, the website has seen a steady stream of traffic, Fuchs said.

(READ MORE: UTC to invest in teacher education, consider use of artificial intelligence)

Southern predicts the growth it's seen in its freshman classes will continue in the future. In preparation, the university is building four new apartment facilities to create housing for 128 more students. The goal is for them to be complete in time for next school year, Negron said.

"Apartment-style housing is more flexible. If in the future enrollments were to go down again, you can take an apartment and use it for older student housing," he said, adding that it could also be used for employees if enrollment declined.

At nearby Lee University, on-campus housing is at around 80% capacity this fall. The university has placed three older dormitories offline for renovations to ensure they're prepared for when enrollment numbers recover after pandemic-related declines.

"We don't expect our current numbers to be the new norm," Rocky Walker, Lee's director of residential housing, said during a video call. "We're very much anticipating getting back to where we have, you know, around a little over 2,000 students living on campus, 5,000 enrolled total. So we're excited to be working back to getting to that."

Contact Shannon Coan at scoan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.