As Sam Dean wrote in her last column “Get off the Campus Grid,” living in Ithaca’s Collegetown certainly has its benefits. The almost exclusively student-occupied neighborhood provides most of what a typical Cornellian needs on a daily basis, creates a nice community and allows for a certain amount of shenanigans. Despite the desirability and guaranteed demand of Collegetown housing, Ithaca realtors take advantage (without reason) of students’ constant occupation of the neighborhood. Cornell students will live in Collegetown; realtors exploit this fact. They thus gain the power to raise rents and have students commit to leases unreasonably early. If Ithaca realtors would ease up and let the housing rush cool down, the resultant experience could be much more pleasant for all involved. Students have the power to push for this change.
Because of the inflexible demand for Collegetown housing, realtors can essentially charge any price and students will find a way to pay it. There are enough Cornell students vying for apartments that those who deem the prices too steep and opt for alternate housing are easily replaced by students ready to accept whatever cost is listed. But this guarantee of filling their properties should mean that realtors don’t have to also jack up their prices. While businesses capitalize on opportunities to increase profit, this doesn’t make it right. Further, in Collegetown it’s just unnecessary.
Firstly, properties based in Collegetown have the benefit of automatic desirability. College students rarely expect fancy accommodation and commonly accept exceptionally humble abodes. As is right — with an August to May commitment and generally (though not uniformly) sporadic cleaning and upkeep routines, college students don’t require much more than moderately sized apartments. Location too plays a major role in students’ unfailing commitment to Collegetown. The ability to walk to campus, even in February, the accessibility of restaurants and stores, and the proximity to the majority of parties and bars largely outweigh the inconvenience of living farther from Cornell. Realtors know that filling properties is not a concern, but manipulating college students into overpaying and rushing into housing contracts is easy. They can get away with overcharging, and Cornell students largely allow this cycle to continue.
Ithaca realtors would still maintain thriving businesses without raising prices year after year and taking advantage of college students’ ardent desire for Collegetown housing. While capitalism teaches that the higher the profit the better, there should be a point where enough suffices, and fairness and morality can take precedence over increased profit. This would in turn lead to happier and more willing residents and decreased competition between lower rent buildings without risk of losing business.
Similarly, as more students want to live in Collegetown than there are rooms, competition starts early and ends quickly. This, though, students have the potential to put to an end. There is no sense in committing to a lease long before anyone could reasonably gain a sense of what’s available and what makes sense — much less choose roommates.
The pressure to commit easily leads to less than ideal living situations and decisions made frantically without time for consideration. What’s more, students have to stress in the beginning of the fall semester about a decision that won’t affect them until the following year. When students sign leases shouldn’t even affect realtors. Regardless of whether the housing rush happens in September or in April, the same apartments and houses will be in demand. Students could make more confident and thoughtful decisions and be under a great deal less pressure at the onset of the semester.
If students looking for Collegetown housing simply held out until the spring, the whole system could change. With all students and potential renters in agreement, the realtors would have to follow suit. While Collegetown housing will always breed competition, students would have all year to think about what they wanted, and the intense pressure of choosing housing would wane. When the time came to decide, students would be able to understand what they were looking for, rather than jumping at the first alluring offer.
Ultimately, businesses must make money. It’s a fact (though unfortunate) of our society. But this should not negate a company’s interest in serving its community — especially if the company still gains revenue. This is the case in Collegetown. A more sensible and decent rental process would better serve the community, and would not necessarily diminish profits. While Ithaca’s real estate companies may not change of their own accord, perhaps Collegetown residents can bring about a shift.
Ruby Perlmutter is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. Having Said That appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.