When Khaled Mohammed Abu-ajamieh landed at the Tampa airport after traveling about 26 hours from Saudi Arabia, he found out the housing he had secured was a scam — leaving him with no place to go.
“I’m in the airport in Tampa, and I don’t know where to go,” Abu-ajamieh said. “So then I booked two nights at this hotel near USF and [I’m] paying about $80 a night. Those two nights quickly turned into a whole month and a half.”
Abu-ajamieh, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering, had been looking for housing for a couple of weeks until he found a posting on a Facebook group about an apartment that fit his budget and necessities. As he hadn’t had luck with other places, he decided to seal the deal and sent a supposed agent about $600 to secure the place.
As soon as Abu-ajamieh tried contacting the agent, he found out his phone number had been blocked and he couldn’t reach him anywhere, not even on social media.
“It’s hard dealing with these issues, because not only are these issues new to me, but just a whole new country, whole new laws, and it’s so confusing,” Abu-ajamieh said. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how I could get my money back. And like, I wanted to get an apartment more than I wanted the money back.”
Across housing Facebook groups, there are several posts or comments from people interested in finding a room near campus for the fall semester. Abu-ajamieh himself said he had spoken to at least 10 people who were in a similar situation as his.
Common housing complexes for students near USF, such as Venue at North Campus or Avalon Heights, have about 100 people waitlisted for a room. Even complexes about two miles away from the Marshall Student Center, such as The Social, are at capacity.
The situation with on-campus housing is not much different.
This year, there were 7,687 students who applied for housing at USF, of which about 6,000 are living on campus, Assistant Vice President for Housing and Residential Education Ana Hernandez said. By the start of the academic year, there were still 450 active housing applications and about 100 of these students requested to be on the standby list.
“We have some students who were anticipating coming to USF, and then for one reason or another, may not be coming to USF,” Hernandez said. “Therefore, their space would be canceled out because you need to be a registered student in order to be eligible to live on campus. And so as space becomes available, then we go back out to the standby list to offer those spaces.”
Housing and Residential Education, the admissions office and USF World have been communicative about dorm availability and applying for housing early, Hernandez said. Once on-campus housing is full, she said the university advises students to look for nearby places.
“We have been encouraging students since the summer that we were going to be very full and asking them to explore other options off campus if that is something that they were interested in,” Hernandez said. “Once we are full on campus, we don’t have any other options that are available through the university.”
Students like Remy Francis, a sophomore majoring in computer science, are relying on sublease availability to secure a place. He said he had been ghosted and rejected many times when he was looking for a room.
Meanwhile, Francis was living with his cousin who lives 30 minutes away from campus. He had to pay around $40 per day in Uber rides to attend his in-person classes.
Despite the challenge of commuting, he said he felt lucky to at least have a place to stay.
“Even though it’s far, I still have somewhere to go,” Francis said. “I’ve seen some people coming from India and stuff, and they’re posting and they don’t have anywhere to stay. For me, it reached a point where I was willing to just crash on any random stranger’s couch once it was close to campus. And I know a lot of people are probably at that point.”
Looking for housing added a lot of unnecessary stress to the start of the semester, Francis said. Akram Arshad Shweil, a chemical engineering junior, compared the stress of finding housing to what students feel during finals week.
“That kind of stress because there were no options available, or if they were available, it was either the moving date was too late, or the rent was just too much for me, I couldn’t afford it or it was too far from campus,” he said.
Shweil said he also got scammed while looking for a place and, although he got his money back, he said it added more tension to the situation. He was able to find a sublease the first week of classes after spending hours on the phone and scrolling on Facebook groups.
But other students haven’t had such luck. As of Sept. 1, Abu-ajamieh hadn’t found a room. By that time, he had spent over six weeks at a hotel.
“The hotel is a comfortable room, and it’s nice, but like, it’s nice for a week, two weeks,” Abu-ajamieh said. “But when you start getting into like a month, two months, and like you don’t know when you’re going to leave, it’s just overwhelming.”
Despite his housing experience, Abu-ajamieh said he is still enjoying his time at USF. He said he’s trying to stay positive and believes he will soon find his home away from home.
“I like the community, I met a lot of people these last couple of days,” he said. “Although there’s this situation that’s going on that has a big impact on my life, I’m still trying to stay positive.”