February 13, 2019

TAARIQ | Cornell’s Misdirected Master Housing Plan

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The number of students who want to live on-campus far exceeds the number that actually live on-campus, according to a housing survey. The current system consists of guaranteed on-campus housing for all incoming first-year students. Following freshman year, students have a variety of on-campus housing options, which include the West Campus House System, program houses and cooperative houses. In order to live on campus, students register online for housing, then receive a randomly designated General Room Selection timeslot. During this timeslot, they select a room and sign a housing contract. Although on-campus housing is guaranteed for sophomores, the problem with this system is that preferred housing is never ensured — especially if students receive later timeslots.

Well, if students can’t live on-campus or don’t like what their timeslot got them, they could consider off-campus housing right? That’s not always the easiest choice either. At the Ithaca Affordable Housing Panel, which was organized in response to the difficulties of finding off-campus housing, problems such as expired Certificates of Compliance for properties, high housing prices and early housing rushes were consistently brought up. Students are signing leases months or even over a year before moving into houses that are overpriced and in a state of disrepair.

Only 48 percent of undergraduate students and six percent of graduate students at Cornell live on-campus, leaving half of Ithaca’s apartment market occupied by students. The median rent in the city nearly doubled between 2000 and 2016. The rent has surpassed the 30 percent threshold of gross income spent on rent, which the government uses to designate financially burdened households. In other words, students are become more financially burdened by how much rent takes from their incomes.

So how did the University respond to combat the issue of students being forced to consider subpar off-campus housing?  North Campus Residential Expansion plan — an entirely flawed plan itself.

The North Campus expansion will be separated by first-year and sophomore housing sites. Two new dorms will be added. The first-year housing site will include new residential facilities (a cafe, amphitheater, basketball court and multipurpose field), and the sophomore site will include a new fitness center and dining hall that will replace Robert Purcell Marketplace Eatery. Current North Campus residents are no strangers to poor conditions like losing heat and water or dealing with burst pipes, so renovations for these facilities are also in the plan. This expansion will allow for “100 percent of its first-year students in developmentally appropriate campus housing and 100 percent of its sophomores in campus residence halls, co-ops and Greek housing,” according the the expansion website

This new project hopes to assist students’ purchasing power in the Ithaca housing market. With less competition between students to live off-campus, the more pressure is applied to landlords to improve the safety and quality of the housing whilst lowering the price.

One proposal from the expansion plan does, however, raises some questions. The housing plan would also requires the increase of total enrollment by 900-1,100 over the course of four years (the freshman class would increase by 225-300 students). President Martha E. Pollack said that increasing the enrollment for students will enrich the Cornell academic and extracurricular experience. Although the bed expansion could accommodate an influx in enrollment for freshmen and sophomores, off and on-campus living following those two years could be a nightmare. Without new beds being added to West Campus or the surrounding campus area, the majority of students will be forced to consider off-campus housing. This inundation in the housing market will make it hard for upper level undergraduates, graduates, and staff to secure housing with a reasonable price. Thus, increasing North Campus housing will mean little for upperclassmen if the University plans to increase enrollment as well.

Another question that has to be asked is how much this will cost for students. Currently, Cornell’s housing, dining and health related expenses is an estimated $15,136 for a double occupancy room. If there is an increase in housing expenses due to the costs of construction, what will that mean for the low-income or working class students, or students who pay full tuition but would like to pay less for living and studying at Cornell by finding cheaper off-campus housing? Almost half of all undergraduate students receive a considerable amount of financial aid from Cornell grants. Considering how increasingly socioeconomically diverse every incoming class is, the cost for students must be considered — especially since on-campus housing will now be mandatory for freshmen and sophomores.

Many undergraduate students still prefer to live in off-campus housing with friends anyways. According to Chiemezue Ijomanta ‘21 who lives at The Lux apartments, “the overall cost [for living off-campus] is similar to living on West. While it was basically my only option… it was the best one.”

In defense of landlords, it is important to know that Cornell University is one of the biggest landowners in Ithaca. However, because the University is a nonprofit we do not pay property taxes, leaving other property owners to absorb the costs which they supplement by raising rent. To alleviate stress, Cornell should consider increasing city and county financial contributions in order to expand publicly funded infrastructure like TCAT services and sidewalk coverage. Or, the University should invest more in financial aid for students housing payments. Finally, it does not seem reasonable for selective universities such as Cornell to increase enrollment at the long term detriment of upperclassmen searching for affordable housing.

There is still much more assessment that needs to be done about the Cornell housing process, both to benefit the students financially and to improve Cornell’s carbon footprint. With construction starting this year, students have to ensure that their concerns are being heard, and that the housing project will be a positive addition to our, and future students, experience at Cornell.

Aminah Taariq is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at ataariq@cornellsun.com. I Spy runs every other Wednesday this semester.