Yesterday, students, faculty, Cornell administrators and Ithaca landlords gathered in the Straight to celebrate the grand opening of Cornell’s new Off-Campus Housing Office.
The OCHO used to be located in the Robert Purcell Community Center on North Campus and was part of Cornell University Campus Life. However, due to the recommendation of a specially appointed task force, the office will now be housed at 401 Willard Straight and will be under the jurisdiction of the Dean of Students.
“We wanted a central location and the Straight is more central than North Campus,” said Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for Student and Academic Services. “And if you think about it, the Dean of Students is really for all students, while Campus Life is just for those living on campus with us.”
Kim Fezza, a life-long Ithaca resident, will be the director of the new office. Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students, introduced Fezza, lauding her strong background in housing and tenant-landlord issues.
“Kim has come to this job as qualified as anyone I could imagine,” Hubbel said.
Fezza believes that the OCHO office should benefit students, faculty and local landlords.
“It’s about the students,” Fezza said, “but we can also help faculty and staff find housing … [and] we can assist the community of local landlords who want to post a listing.”
Some of the changes that Fezza has planned for the office include creating a new website with an improved listing service, coordinating a housing fair and offering educational housing workshops and referral services for off-campus students who need help dealing with problems ranging from building maintenance to health issues. She hopes that the housing service will help ensure that students are safe and well taken care of.
“We want it be safe,” Fezza said. “We want to make sure that the neighborhoods students are living in are well-lit, and the buildings are safe and well-maintained.”
The discussion featured speeches by Hubbell, Murphy, Fezza and Carolyn Peterson, mayor of Ithaca, all of whom expressed their beliefs in the positive impact that the new office will have.
“I’m very pleased to see this kind of office coming back into fruition,” said Peterson. “I think it will be used very frequently and very well.”
The speakers also expressed their hope that the new office will help improve the relationship between Cornell and the Ithaca community.
“This really is a town-gown partnership,” said Murphy. “I hope it will help us open our lines of communication with the landlords.”
“It is yet another opportunity for [Cornell and Ithaca] to work very closely together on an issue that matters to us both,” said Hubbell.
While many of the local landlords who attended agreed that it is important to keep communication between Cornell and the local community open, they also shared some of their doubts regarding the new office.
Bill Olney, vice president of the Landlords Association of Tompkins County, expressed concern over the location of the new office as he thinks it will be harder for landlords to access Willard Straight than it was for them to access RPCC. However, he concluded that that it probably will not pose too big of a problem.
“With the computer access, there’s not really a need to physically visit,” he said.
However, several landlords warned that relying on the internet to find housing is not always the best idea for students.
“No matter how hard you try to communicate to students [online] about what they are getting they always have one or two things that they thought were going to be different,” said John Novarr, a local landlord. “It’s a beginning, but in the end you’ve really got to look at the stuff.”