September 18, 2006

Students Begin Housing Search

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School only just started, but students have already begun their search for apartments and houses in Collegetown for next year. Meanwhile, Cornell is expanding its off-campus housing services.

Cornell Housing is recruiting an off-campus housing director who will have a small office in the Straight. Kent Hubbell, dean of students, said the office will open as soon as the director is found, which could be in the latter part of this semester.

“The hope is that this person will facilitate dialogue between students and landlords,” Hubbell said.

The off-campus housing website will be expanded, too.

“Since over half of Cornell students live off-campus, it seems appropriate that Cornell provides some support off campus,” Hubbell said.

Hubbell doesn’t expect any dramatic changes, but added that “having someone like this will be helpful.”

According to Barbara Romano, director of Cornell Housing, Cornell currently manages an online listing of available housing for landlords and students. Cornell Housing also distributes a check list that helps students select an apartment.

These changes were made in response to the Off-Campus Task Force formed by the Student Assembly two-and-a-half years ago, after the Collegetown Creeper incidents and other violent episodes.

“I’m dismayed with how the student assembly task force turned out,” said Alderman David Gelinas ’07 (D-4th Ward), former Student Agencies real estate manager. “It doesn’t make sense to have the office in Willard Straight — it should be in the space in Sheldon Court.”

Gelinas also thinks that the office should also have a larger staff than one person. Nevertheless, he said that the creation of the office and appointment of a director is a “step in the right direction.”

A liaision between students and landlords may make the apartment-hunting process less complex and eliminate the need for students to seek out — and pay — a third party to find housing.

“I think having a director of Off-Campus Housing is wonderful,” said Alderperson Gayraud Townsend ‘05 (D-4th Ward). “There isn’t a person who works across the board that connects landlords and students. If someone decided to do that as a business, they probably could make a lot of money.”

Michael Zhang ’08 found his housing through a friend. His friend paid to subscribe to a website that finds an apartment for you — and the service worked. Zhang found the housing process easy and feels like he doesn’t have to look for housing until the spring semester.

Ken Yao ’09 had a different experience: “We just wandered around Collegetown and saw signs for houses for rent. We wrote down the numbers, called the landlords and compared the prices.”

“It was important to me to find a quiet place, because I don’t like to study in the library,” Yao said.

Kristen Aliano ’07 lived in Collegetown the past two years. This year, however, she lives by Pyramid Mall because she couldn’t find a fall-only studio or one-bedroom apartment.

“I didn’t want a full-year rent because it’s so difficult finding subletters for the spring semester,” Aliano said.

In Collegetown, Aliano lived in management-corporation-run housing.

“It was easy to find an apartment in the big buildings. I prefer them over a landlord or someone who owns a house and leases it out to students,” Aliano said. “I think they’re run in a more professional manner.”

Aliano also added that she felt more safe and secure in a large apartment building.

Students shape the housing market in Collegetown, and its changed over the last few years.

“In the seven years I’ve had apartments in Collegetown, there’s been a change in the desirable areas to live,” said a landlord in Collegetown with properties around the Cascadilla gorge area and DeWitt place. “Before, everyone wanted apartments higher than College Ave. on Bryant and Linden. Now, people are open to living around the Cascadilla gorge, on Highland Place and Williams Street.”

“One thing that hasn’t changed is that students want to be as close to school as possible,” added the anonymous landlord.

The landlord also said that she thinks students now want higher-quality apartments.

Ed Galbreth, building manager at Student Agencies, has been involved in Collegetown real estate for 20 years. To him, Collegetown’s new, big apartment buildings — such as Eddygate, Collegetown Plaza and 312 College Ave. — have changed the housing market.

“The buildings offer lots of amenities, and since they’re new everything seems a lot nicer. Smaller landlords had to make changes to compete with the new buildings — they have to offer the same amenities,” Galbreth said.

Galbreath added that he’s seen the shops in Collegetown get a “little more upscale.”

312 offers amenities such as a lounge with a wide-screen television, a fitness room, laundry facilities, as well as Pier 1 furniture and dry cleaning, according to Candice Bailey, leasing manager at 312.

Bailey also thinks that buildings run by management corporations, such as 312 offer more from a parent’s perspective.

Some properties owned by individual landlords feature bedrooms with private baths, spiral staircases, cathedral ceilings and 200-square foot rooms.

Monthly rents are an important factor in finding Collegetown housing. Three words guide price: location, location, location.

“Prices are driven by the overwhelming demand for housing in a small area,” Gelinas said. “And there’s a lot of people at Cornell with reasonable disposable income.”

The early season for housing — September of the previous year — is also related to the scarcity of well-located, high-quality apartments.

“I started advertising earlier this year than ever before,” said the anonymous landlord. “People who look really early want the best quality for the best price.”

Galbreth said that all the Student Agencies apartments are rented by Christmas. He added that studios and one bedrooms are easier to get later in the year.