February 27, 2007

Off-Campus Housing Office Opens

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Cornell’s new Off-Campus Housing Office recently opened its doors to the University’s large off-campus community last month. Since the office’s opening, newly- named OCHO Coordinator Kimberly Fezza hopes to enhance the residential experience and quality of life for students both currently living and looking to live, off-campus.

As a long-time Ithaca-area resident, Fezza has been active in the area’s housing market for 10 years as a realtor, office manager and tenant relations specialist. Fezza said she hopes that undergraduates, grad students and post-doctoral researchers will look to her not only as a housing resource, but as a resource to help guide them through what can be a very unfamiliar process.

OCHO offers important outreach and education services to Cornell’s off-campus community, including educating students about their responsibilities as tenants, advocating for student tenant rights and referring students to the proper authority when they encounter issues. This can range from dispute mediation between housemates to legal advice regarding conflicts with landlords.

Fezza said that the office looks forward to the next few months in which it will not only move to a new location in the Straight, but will also experience growth.

“Right now we are in the process of figuring out what students need,” she said.

The office plans to hold various workshops to educate prospective and current tenants about leases, landlord and tenant relations, Ithaca and New York State housing laws and tenant rights. Specialized workshops will also focus on first- year students as well as bilingual students.

The office is the result of a 2004 collaboration between Cornell Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 and Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson, according to Murphy. Their mutual interest in building a more cooperative relationship between off-campus students and their Ithaca neighbors led to the creation of an off-campus housing task force to address concerns regarding the s.a.fety and quality of life outside of Cornell’s campus.

“We have not focused as intently on off-campus housing issues in recent years, and we thought we now have time to do so.” Murphy said, “Students had raised a number of issues, especially following the Collegetown Creeper; they also had some concerns about access to good information about rental properties [regarding] their rights and responsibilities.”

The committee recommended the creation of OCHO not only to provide Cornell’s off-campus community with education and resources, but also to improve “town-gown” relations.

Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’69 has experience with both on and off-campus housing, having lived on North, in a fraternity house, in Collegetown, on the bank of Cayuga Lake and currently in a more quiet Ithaca neighborhood.

“What [OCHO] promises is more of a partnership between Ithaca landlords and the Cornell community.” Hubbell said. “We are helping to provide landlords with improved opportunities to advertise on our website.”

Fezza will also be keeping local landlords aware of information about housing matters at the University as well as student concerns.

“It will be great to educate the students on what they are getting themselves into; the more they know the better off they are,” said Collegetown landlord Ike Nestopoulos.

Approximately 10,000 Cornellians currently call off-campus locations home. Students and administrators must recognize that s.a.fety is a major issue for universities with high percentages of students living off-campus, according to a recent New York Times article.

OCHO is open to listening to students’ concerns about living off-campus, such as improved lighting on Collegetown streets or additional locks on the doors and windows of first-floor apartments.

“We know that students need to be vigilant and smart about when and where and with whom they walk,” said Murphy. “We have had incidents, as recently as this semester, of students being approached by strangers and then having purses stolen … so, like any community, there can be people doing bad things and our students need to be smart about their own actions.”

As a final piece of advice, Hubbell cautioned that freshmen don’t have to rush out fall semester in search of off-campus housing — the University guarantees housing for freshmen, sophomores and transfer students.

“Housing is important; it defines how we live, who we connect with, our social lives,” said Hubbell. “You have schools like Harvard, Stanford and Yale where nearly all students live on campus for four years — it’s certainly not as challenging! At Cornell, we think about the benefits of having choice.”