Hundreds of University of Hawaii Manoa students who are still residing on campus must vacate their housing by noon on May 16, according to an email sent to students on Friday.

“You must be completely moved out of your room by this date and time,” says the email, which includes move-out instructions, storage location suggestions and a check-out checklist.

The UH housing contract for the 2019-20 academic year expires May 16. Still, some students said they were taken aback by the notice, particularly since Hawaii is under an emergency stay-at-home directive through the end of May.

The shelter-in-place order, according to some students, makes it nearly impossible to find alternative housing on the island, especially when their family’s housing situations make it tough to return home.

UH Manoa Campus center mural with students walking up and down stairs.
There are at least 750 students still residing at UH Manoa’s student housing. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

That’s the case with Marcus Holbert, a graduating senior from Vacaville, California, whose parents and sister share a small two-bedroom apartment. His mother and aunt have already tested positive for coronavirus, he said.

“I don’t believe it is safe for me to return to California,” he said in an email. “There isn’t room for me at my parents’ house.”

Holbert, a world history major who wants to work in politics, said he understands UH’s housing contract ends on May 16, but thought the university might relax some of these rules due to the extraordinary situation posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He thinks it would be better for UH to allow students to stay in campus housing until the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted. The fact that school officials are strictly enforcing the contract, he said, has not really left departing students with many options.

“With the virus, everyone’s nervous about taking in people. Even with my best friends (in Hawaii), I wouldn’t want to put them in that situation,” he said.

He added that this past weekend was the first time he had been notified of the school’s move-out plans.

“I’ve been waiting to see what the school was going to do about move-out since spring break,” he said. “I’ve been checking my email religiously waiting for a date.”

Cleaning For The Next Group

There are currently 752 students still living in UH Manoa student housing, according to UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. Of those, 384 are from out of state, 325 are Hawaii residents and 43 are international.

In addition, some students left campus when spring break started but haven’t had a chance to return to retrieve their belongings.

At the start of the spring semester, there were 2,900 residents in student housing, but most have left since the pandemic took hold in mid-March and UH decided to move to distance learning.

Meisenzahl said the campus is sticking to the May 16 move-out date so the university can clean and disinfect spaces and plan for the new crop of residential students when fall semester begins on Aug. 24.

The Manoa campus will also not be offering housing throughout the summer session, which runs from May 26 to Aug. 14. Summer sessions will be in all-online format.

UH President David Lassner said earlier this week that all 10 UH campuses statewide plan to resume in-person classes this fall, in addition to offering online classes, joining a growing number of higher-ed institutions around the country that have recently announced plans to reopen in the fall.

Lassner acknowledged that managing the risks of student housing was among the toughest things the university has had to face since the pandemic began.

“We have many students who have no safe place to go other than to stay with us,” he said, adding that residence hall occupancy has been low — and will probably remain low in the fall.

Marcus Holbert, University of Hawaii Manoa, coronavirus, campus, student, housing
UH senior Marcus Holbert in the West Wing of the White House in November 2019. Aspiring to a career in politics, he plans to return to his home state of California on May 16. Courtesy: Marcus Holbert/2019

Meisenzahl on Tuesday said the university is preparing to configure student housing so it adheres to safe social distancing guidelines. In other words, two-person dormitories may only be open to one occupant. Dining halls could see additional restrictions.

“We’ve made a commitment to have housing available to students, but we won’t have the same capacity,” he said. As for what those exact changes might entail, he said it is too soon to tell and depends a lot on the status of the pandemic in the islands.

UH Manoa is allowing some current students to stay past the May 16 move-out date and remain in campus housing until June 14.

They include international residents whose visas require them to remain in the U.S, international students unable to return to their home country due to COVID-19 restrictions and student residents with medical restrictions that prevent travel.

But in the email sent to students last week, the university said exemption requests are not guaranteed approval.

Those who do get approved will have to pay $23.25 per night for a single room and won’t be able to host any guests.

“Individual students are absolutely welcome to try and work with the university, within student housing,” said Meisenzahl. “We’re doing everything we can for student residents, at the same time we’re doing everything we can to prepare for the fall semester.”

Holbert, 29, said his plans pre-coronavirus were to stay in Hawaii and take summer courses, and to either stay with a friend or opt for campus summer housing.

His cost for spring semester campus housing, with no meal plan, was $7,184. He has lost his job in retail since the pandemic began and said he would not be able to afford the $23.25 per night campus housing rate because of his lost income.

For now, he has purchased a one-way $208 ticket back to California departing on May 16.

Even though he is nervous about it, he plans to stay at his parents’ cramped apartment and apply for jobs there.

“I just don’t know if it’s the smart move,” he said. “All my plans were set up to get a job in Hawaii and work out here.”

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