October 15, 2007

Off-Campus Housing Office Retools to Improve Service

Print More

With more than 50 percent of undergraduates and 85 percent of graduate students living outside of University residences, off-campus housing is a big issue for the Cornell Community. The Off-Campus Housing Office, newly located in 401 Willard Straight Hall, is expanding its services to address the needs of current and potential off-campus residents and promote the quality of off-campus living.
According to the Cornell Off-Campus Housing website, the mission of OCHO is to “provide housing assistance, education and referral services to students, staff, faculty and others associated with Cornell, choosing to live off-campus”.
The office was first located in Robert Purcell Community Center and on then on the sixth floor of the Straight, before it became a unit of the Office of the Dean of Students in the Straight at the end of this summer.
The relocation of the office was a key recommendation made by the Off-Campus Housing Task Force, a committee on off-campus living issues made up of students, staff and Ithaca city representatives.
“The North Campus location was inconvenient to most students,” said LeNorman J. Strong, assistant vice president of student and academic services and co-chair of the task force. “The programs and services need to be expanded to address more needs of students living off-campus … [and] Willard Straight Hall was chosen as the site for the office because there was not a possibility of creating the office in our preferred site in Collegetown, and the students on the committee and those interviewed unanimously suggested the Straight as the next best location.”
To expand its services, OCHO is in the process of improving its website, which will be implemented this fall. The new website will include more information as well as a new on-line off-campus housing listing.
Kimberly Fezza, director of OCHO, said, “Landlords who put their properties on the listing will be able to show photos and maps. It will be an integrated and interactive website.”
The current on-line housing website allows landlords to market their properties with detailed information and tenants to search for housing according to their specific needs. The service is free to all registered Cornell students.
“It’s good to have all the information centralized, and the potential tenants do not have to go to different sites to get information,” said Austin Lu grad.
With a more visual component in the future, Fezza said the off-campus housing website will be much more exciting.
OCHO-Ithaca Campus is also collaborating with Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York City to create and link the housing websites for the two campuses.
Other than upgrading its website, OCHO sponsors a variety of events to offer guidance on searching for and living in off-campus housing. The events include pre-rental housing workshops, which are held several times throughout the year to inform people of key points on renting; workshops on healthy living and safety; housing information sessions and panel discussions for students and families; and an improved and renamed housing fair, called Housing Expo, coming up next January.
The office provides a lease review service to ensure the tenants are signing legal and reasonable leases. Maps of housing in the Ithaca area and price references are also available in the office.
“We are here to help you find safe and affordable housing,” said Fezza.
When landlord-tenant disputes happen, the office can hand the issues to local agencies, such as Community Dispute Resolution Center, for mediation. Fezza said, “If there’s a problem that a student has with the landlord off-campus, they can come to us and talk about it, and we will point them in the right direction for the necessary resources to resolve the problem.”
According to Fezza, there are approximately 10 students that come to the office and 10 to 20 calling for help per day.
The new office is making an effort to get its word out. The office staffs table on Ho Plaza several times every month, put up posters and advertise the office.
“The biggest thing is to let people know who we are, what we do and why we are here,” said Fezza.