All seniors who applied for Northfield Option—Carleton’s system for allocating off-campus, non-college owned housing—were accepted this year. Seniors with draw numbers as high as 257 were able to make it off campus, whereas many landlords and students had previously only considered those with numbers around 80 and below sure bets.
Director of Residential Life (Res Life) Andrea Robinson confirmed that all 79 students who made up the 20 housing groups that applied were accepted. Res Life usually sets a target of around 75 students to live off-campus. According to Robinson, the target number is determined by the number of on-campus beds, Off Campus Studies (OCS) participants, returning students living on campus and the size of the first-year class.
This is not the first year in which everyone has been accepted for Northfield Option. Robinson noted that she was unsure exactly how many years they’ve accepted everyone. This is because during the height of COVID-19, students had the option of living off-campus.
“Over the past few years, we’ve been able to accept everyone who has applied and have even re-opened the process to offer more if others were interested after the initial deadline,” Robinson said.
Although Res Life has accepted all applicants before, many landlords and students involved in the process were surprised to learn that such high draw numbers were accepted.
Clark Ohnesorge is a landlord who has been renting houses to Carleton students for 17 years and currently rents out two houses for 10-11 tenants.
“About ten years ago, I thought that numbers 50-60 would be a pretty good number for students,” Ohnesorge said. “It’s inched up in the past few years, so now numbers over 100 for Northfield Option sometimes work.”
Peggy Sheldon, another landlord who has been renting to Carleton students since 1997, also expressed surprise that everyone was accepted this year. She generally considers numbers anywhere from 80-60 and below as sure bets to be accepted.
The uncertainty inherent in the draw number lottery system can make planning difficult, according to Sophia Quast ’23.
“My housing group was communicating with a landlord and planning on signing but when numbers came out, we got around 160,” Quast said. “The landlord said we wouldn’t be approved with such a high number, so we couldn’t sign the lease, and then later we got approved.”
From the landlord’s perspective, Sheldon has faced similar predicaments.
“I’ve had some people who applied to me and I just didn’t feel comfortable signing a lease with them,” Sheldon said. “Because a lease is a legal document and they’d have to live up to it even if they couldn’t move in. I could not in good conscience do that.”
Had a group like Quast’s signed the lease and not been approved, they would’ve been on the hook for months of rent payments. Landlords can also be left in the lurch if they turn groups away because of high draw numbers, as they may not be able to find tenants later on. Because of this, Ohnesorge has a personal policy of never agreeing to rent before a group is approved for Northfield Option.
“I have entered into something like ‘handshake deals’ with students if they have a number like 30 and are assured of getting approved,” said Ohnesorge. “But my policy has been that I don’t sign a lease or make any serious agreement with students until they’re approved by Res Life.”
“I think it’s unethical to enter into a contract with people who might not be able to fulfill it. So if students don’t get approved for Northfield Option but have already agreed to rent, that would leave both them and me in a difficult situation. But I’ve worried about being hung out to dry with no tenants, sometimes it’s stretched out into April or May which makes me nervous as a landlord because it’s my living,” Ohnesorge added.
Ohnesorge also noted that Res Life has always been considerate about trying to provide all parties with as much information as possible, but there is simply too much uncertainty.
“I’ve called them frequently in the past about what numbers were likely to be good. They’ve never been in a position to say ‘Number X is going to be good,’” Ohnesorge said. “But they’ve said to me occasionally things like ‘given the applications this year, number Y is going to be a stretch.’”
“We don’t get many calls from landlords, but in general it is very difficult for us to give any assurances,” Robinson said. “We certainly try to clarify the process for students if they ask, but everything depends on the students in the lottery process so it’s not always clear.”
“I have a great deal of sympathy both for Res Life and for students because when you try to step back from this, the institution is interested in addressing a complicated situation,” said Ohnesorge. “It’s a process that is very fraught. Students have to make a projection or decision that’s based on a little uncertainty and under time pressure.”