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As on-campus students weigh housing restrictions, off-campus students scramble to find housing

May 7, 2021

Renata Gonzalez-Chong
for rent?: An off-campus house in Brunswick. Students planning on living in the area are scrambling to find options as summer programs return to normal.

The release of the Summer Campus Community Agreement this week painted a clear picture of what life on campus will look like for students who sign it, and it is a picture that strongly resembles this past semester at the College. For students ineligible for on-campus housing, the market for off-campus rentals has been exceptionally tight, due primarily to the return of the Bowdoin International Music Festival (BIMF).

As will be the case next fall, all students living on campus must be fully vaccinated before housing officially opens on June 4. Moreover, as per the agreement, there will be a testing program for students throughout the summer, and students who miss a certain number of tests will be subject to disciplinary action—potentially including “immediate removal from campus.” Mandatory masking, physical distancing and restrictions on gatherings will be enforced in a manner similar to this past spring.

“I understand being cautious, but there’s a point when it feels like it’s maybe a little too cautious, especially when we’re going well beyond what state and federal guidelines are telling us we should do—and also when everyone is required to be fully vaccinated,” said Lola Motley ’22, who will be living on campus and working remotely through a Cooke Research Fellowship offered by the Environmental Studies Department, in a phone interview with the Orient.

As was the case this past semester, students living off-campus in the Brunswick area will be allowed to apply for on-campus privileges. This enrolls them in the testing program and allows them access to College academic buildings and facilities—but not residential spaces.

Close to 250 people participating in the BIMF will also be living on-campus and enrolled in Bowdoin’s testing program. The BIMF is operating with a slightly reduced population of student participants this summer in accordance with Bowdoin’s campus density guidelines, and all BIMF members living in Bowdoin housing will be signing the campus community agreement.

The in-person return of the BIMF, which was held virtually last summer, has impacted the summer housing landscape both on and off campus. While Bowdoin accommodates the bulk of BIMF participants in on-campus housing, the festival’s organizers also routinely rent out houses close to campus to accommodate its 50 faculty members, many of whom often rent to students during the academic year.

Last summer, due to the BIMF’s cancellation, many of these houses were available to students, creating a relatively loose housing market for those staying in Brunswick over the summer. This year, though, students were pressured to find what scarce housing options they could earlier than usual.

“My friend and I were looking for housing all the way back in March,” said Anika Helmke ’22, who will be pursuing a remote internship and living in Brunswick this summer, in a phone interview with the Orient. “We had some ideas on the horizon and decided early to talk with a friend who said there might be space. The people we’re living with already know they are living in the house next school year, so they get preference there.”

The issue is two-sided; securing a lease in the off-campus housing market has been a scramble not just for students, but for the BIMF’s organizers as well. Off-campus students looking to live in Brunswick for the summer have taken away once-reliable housing options for BIMF faculty.

“We certainly rely on repeat landlords, that makes our job a lot easier, particularly if a landlord and individual faculty member can form a relationship. Some faculty are staying in the same place for five to ten years, every year, which is great and makes it a lot easier for them and for us,” Executive Director of the BIMF Daniel Nitsch said in a phone interview with the Orient. “We waited longer than usual to make a decision for the summer, and some of these repeat landlords had already moved on and wanted to book their place and gave it to someone else for the summer, so we lost out on that. Hopefully, that’s just a one-year dip and next year we’ll be able to get these faculty back into their usual places.”

Further, the festival’s organizers weren’t able to confirm that it would be held in person until a month ago, meaning faculty have also been pressured to find convenient housing in a shortened time frame.

“We weren’t positive we were even going to have an in-person festival until early April when we made the final decision,” said Nitsch. “Usually we have much more lead time, but this year, because we were waiting to see how vaccination was going and the state of COVID-19, we waited to get as close to the summer as we could. We had to wait a bit, which made housing more challenging. We had to scramble and see what was available in the last few months before the summer season.”

Just like the BIMF, many students were not sure of their summer plans until late into the semester. As a result, the search for off-campus housing has been difficult given the abundance of students looking to call Brunswick home for the summer.

“It’s tough [looking for off-campus housing] because I didn’t get my job officially until the end of April,” said Abby Bennitt ’23, who will be pursuing an internship with a company based in Falmouth this summer and is still searching for housing in the Brunswick area, in a phone interview with the Orient. “By that point, a lot of people that knew they’d be in Maine or knew they wanted to be in Maine [had] snapped up a lot of the classic off-campus housing.”

Some students struggling to find off-campus housing expressed frustration that Bowdoin is not opening its doors to accommodate them, especially given the College’s commitment to protecting the Brunswick community.

“I’d be willing to pay Bowdoin’s rates at whatever they wanted to set,” said Bennitt. “it could be more than $65 a week—I don’t care, really, if it meant that I could be here and have a place to live that was central and was going to be with people that I knew and [that] I knew would be safe COVID-19 wise.”


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