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How to make the housing lottery more effective

By Carolyn Rogers

Section: Opinions

March 31, 2017

Complaints about DCL and the housing lottery have abounded in the last several weeks, but the core issue is not with number distribution or confusing choosing processes, but rather with the lottery system itself. The current system creates an individualistic atmosphere where people compete with one another for the best housing, agree to live with people they might not get along with in the name of getting a better suite and leave out their friends for the transgression of getting an unlucky number. The entire housing selection process should be reformed to be based on roommate groups rather than individuals favored by the Housing Gods.

When applying for housing, instead of each individual submitting a separate application and receiving a separate number, people should apply for housing in groups. In the case of upperclassman housing, there are options ranging from singles (Charles River efficiencies) to six-person suites (Ridgewood, Mods and Ziv) to everything in between. If six upperclassmen know they want to live together, they should form a group and submit their application as one group. Then they would receive a random lottery number within the pool of six-person groups. The same goes for five-person groups (Charles River), four-person groups (Ridgewood and Mods), etc. Each group that submits an application would receive a lottery number for their group in the pool for their given group size.

Applying as a group would be better than the current system because people who are good friends and know each other well would be more likely to live together, rather than splitting up if none of them gets a good number. This would prevent roommate problems and preserve friendships down the road because the current lottery system incentivizes students to live with people they do not know or get along with well because that person has a good number and can pull them into better housing.

When selection actually takes place, it should be organized thusly: six-person housing is chosen on a Monday with selection times based on the lottery number each group got. There will be no choosing on Tuesday to give groups time to rethink if their number was too high to get six-person housing before it ran out. Once they decided how to rearrange their group (for example, one group of six becomes two groups of three), they would submit a different application to put their smaller groups in the pool of the smaller group. Then on Wednesday, five-person groups would choose based on their lottery numbers. Thursday would be another day off to regroup. Selection for four-person options would take place on Friday, and three-person selections would occur on Monday since the weekend would provide another break for people to regroup. It would continue with the same pattern of one day of choosing, followed one day of regrouping until all housing has been chosen. The process would take two weeks in total.

Aside from switching to a group-based selection process, applying for on-campus housing should require more commitment. Many people would be equally happy with on- or off-campus housing, but they apply for housing anyway for the chance to get a good number. That lowers the probability that someone more committed to living on campus will get a good number and raises the likelihood that someone with a moderate number will pull out of the lottery. A penalty fee, of say $200, would discourage people who do not place a high value on on-campus housing from applying for housing at all. Implementing a penalty policy would make it more likely that good numbers, and therefore on-campus housing, would go to the people who value it the most.

Additionally, the process should also happen much earlier in the semester. Settling on-campus housing in February instead of April would give anyone choosing to move off campus, or forced off campus because of limited space, more time to find a place to live in Waltham.

Though the housing lottery seems reasonable on the surface, it is not the most efficient way for students to choose housing, and it creates problems that run counter to the culture of inclusivity and kindness at Brandeis. Establishing a group-based system in which one’s roommates are prioritized over the living space itself would solve many of these problems. It would disincentivize people to leave out their friends or live with strangers, which would prevent roommate disagreements and potential relocations during the semester. It would preserve parts of the lottery system to give each group an equal shot at choosing the type of housing they want. Finally, it would shorten the process and place it earlier in the year to reduce the stress the housing selection process places on students and their relationships. Especially considering the myriad problems with the housing lottery this year, DCL should strongly consider reforming the system to something more inclusive in the future.

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