November 14, 2008

Council Listens to Concerns About Off-Campus Housing

Print More

The hasty search for off-campus housing was among the various topics discussed by Kimberly Fezza of the Cornell University Off-Campus Housing Office at last night’s Collegetown Neighborhood Council meeting with Collegetown landlords, property owners and student renters.
OCHO, which opened its doors in last April, aims to provide off-campus housing information, resources and referrals to interested members of the Cornell community.
At this fall’s First-Year Parents’ Weekend, OCHO learned from concerned parents that a majority of parents and students alike already feel the pressure to sign a lease for the following year.
“Some first year students sign a lease within 30 days of their arrival on campus,” Fezza said.
In order to better inform students about off-campus housing options and facilitate their move off-campus, OCHO offers services such as managing online listings of Collegetown and other off-campus properties, lease education, mediation assistance between landlords, tenants and roommates and free housing workshops.
“We’re not trying to sway [Cornell community members] to live on-campus or off-campus, in Collegetown or in downtown Ithaca,” Fezza said. “We are trying to educate them about their options.”
Vice President of University and Community Relations for the Panhellenic councilJennifer Hillman ’09 inquired about how OCHO’s plan to handle the influx of students looking for housing after sorority and fraternity recruitment early in the spring semester.
“We are actually encouraging all students to begin seeking rental opportunities in the spring,” Fezza said. “There is a perception that after the fall, all of the good properties are gone, but this is untrue.”
According to Sharon M. Marx, property manager for Ithaca Renting Company, properties remain available until August, just before classes recommence.
Carmen Iao ’09, vice president of finance for Engineers for a Sustainable World, questioned OCHO’s role in the ensuring that off-campus properties are not only safe, but also energy-efficient.
Iao expressed concern over the extravagant use of energy during winter months because of thin insulation and old windows of Collegetown’s older properties.
In response to this issue, Engineers for a Sustainable World have built a website that enables students to request average monthly cost of utilities from various Collegetown locations, provided by New York State Electric & Gas.
OCHO also provides detailed checklists for renters to use while searching for suitable housing and for move-in day. It works closely with the city of Ithaca and Collegetown landlords at various levels. Landlords are able to list their properties on OCHO’s website, where they are visible to over 10,000 Cornell students, faculty and staff.
According to Fezza, OCHO’s top priority is the safety of Cornell students, faculty and staff, and therefore only lists properties with a current Certificate of Compliance with the City of Ithaca Building Department.
Ithaca’s new housing inspection code, which requires that houses be inspected every three years rather than every five years, is causing contention between OCHO, Collegetown landlords and the City of Ithaca Building Department.
According to Gino Leonardi, City of Ithaca senior code inspector, the building department is extremely overwhelmed with requests for inspections.
“We will not be able to inspect all of the dwellings that require inspection during the current inspection cycle,” he said.
One landlord who owns multiple properties in Collegetown explained that she is unable to list two of her properties on OCHO’s website because she is awaiting inspections.
Alderperson Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) cited an inadequate number of employees as a main factor preventing the building department from completing the inspections in a timely manner.
The meeting’s agenda moved on to discuss pressing issues of safety in off-campus housing and Collegetown in particular.
“As an Ithaca police officer, I tend to interact more with students off-campus,” Jamie Williamson, an Ithaca Police Department officer said.
One of Williamson’s main concerns is students’ general lack of knowledge of city codes that apply to them on a daily basis, noting specifically the Ithaca noise ordinance and quality of life codes.
Williamson said that he would like to see the Ithaca city codes listed on the OCHO website so that students can familiarize themselves with these policies.
Echoing Williamson, Deputy Fire Chief of the Ithaca Fire Department C. Thomas Parsons discussed the increased level of responsibility that students and other Cornell community members take on once they move off-campus.
“Students are not only responsible for themselves, but also for their housemates, their [neighbors] and community members,” he said.
According to Parsons, instead of having barbecues on porches and parties on rooftops, students should act as responsible members of the Collegetown community.