October 7, 2020

DERY | Cornell Should Actively Help House Students Off-Campus

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As freshmen begin to settle into the warmth of the dorms ahead of this winter, many upperclassmen are already on the lookout for their next homes. Tis’ the season of falling leaves, candy and house tours. The last of the three, which has become somewhat of a Cornell rite, probably isn’t what Christian Baran ’22 has in mind when he calls on us to “Do the Seasons.” But, given the stress of finding off-campus housing in a group full of rookie sophomores, it’s about as close as I can get at times. Perhaps the more accurate warning is “Winter is Coming:” The dash to find affordable off-campus housing before options begin to dwindle within a few months.

In this spirit, what started as a cute couple of tours with friends has now devolved into failed negotiation attempts with landlords, constantly asking my go-to Hotelie about real estate lingo and suffered casualties (in the form of prospective housemates realizing the price to live in their frat is fractionally cheaper than the house whose lease you were planning to sign that night).

Though my battle seems to be nearing its end (which is a thought I’ve had for about two weekends now), I address those underclassmen and fellow upperclassmen yet to embark on the off-campus housing search. Soon you will also shiver at the mention of leases, pro-rating and “utilities are not included.” Gone are the days of being coddled by Cornell housing. Sure, the price of housing in on-campus dorms is more expensive than much off-campus housing, let alone the house meal plan that fails to pay off if you don’t wake up on time for breakfast and refuse to walk down and then back up the Slope for lunch on principle.

But being an upperclassman at a school that doesn’t guarantee housing is like being suddenly thrown into the wild; we are urged to sign leases as soon as possible by a likely irrational — yet very real — fear that collegetown will run out of housing, especially when searching in larger groups. By the same token, these housing groups are likely to lose people during the process, given more diversity in preferences and budgets. And even those seeking individual housing or housing in small groups are subject to higher prices, and may end up merging with other groups anyway. The mentality changes from all students under one roof, on one campus, to brutal battle royal. Though there are resources available to undergraduates looking to live off-campus undergraduates looking to live off-campus, when all is said and done, upperclassmen not in Greek Life or the like are really left to their own accords to find housing. For many students seeking lower-cost housing beyond the dorms, it’s Rush, Mozey or bust.

To reduce the stress and stakes of finding off-campus housing, Cornell ought not to cut the housing umbilical cord from undergraduates. In fact, the University could go well beyond counsel and co-ops. Currently, Cornell does provide listings of off-campus apartments available to students. However, this list is in many ways incomplete, and in my housing search I have found that many other lucrative options are omitted. At best, this is Cornell merely checking a box in assisting with off-campus living, keeping a safe distance from the actual interaction between students and landlords, and the daunting task of reading over and signing a lease.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If Cornell were to act as an intermediary between Collegetown landlords and students, helping set fair prices and connect the two parties, then perhaps the on-campus and off-campus housing processes wouldn’t be completely foreign in comparison. By compiling more comprehensive lists, and being able to reach out to a Cornell office directly to help locate and talk with landlords, the burden would be much lighter on students dealing with a semester in full-swing. Even more so, having the backing of Cornell administration in choosing off-campus housing would provide some consolation to the many tenants who don’t really know what they’re getting themselves into when signing on the dotted line. Whether it’s a Cornell representative who can assist with negotiation, reach out to landlords or just help read over a lease, such small steps would help prevent yet another slew of upperclassmen who feel rushed into a lease agreement. On the financial side of things, Cornell could more smoothly integrate financial aid packages into lease agreements, beyond refunding extra aid after tuition is paid.

And, if we think bigger, Cornell could even look into operating off-campus housing that will provide low-cost options to students in need. Considering that co-ops are one of the only relatively low-cost options for non-freshmen students desiring to live in university-owned housing, more opportunities should be made available on this front too. Though buying up enough off-campus housing — let alone constructing dorms — to house the full campus population is unfeasible at this point, Cornell could look into operating off-campus housing that will provide low-cost options to students in need, such that housing is no longer a socially influenced part of Cornell life.

The bottom line is that our school should start getting its hands dirty instead of waiving off non freshmen — many of which don’t know the first thing about negotiating lease terms and don’t have a hotelie roommate to walk them through the process — from the Hill. If my experience these last few weeks is at all indicative of the reality of our off-campus housing search, then Cornell has much ground to cover. For the sake of landlords who need to speak to four parents spread across five housing groups, and students who need to read over three leases among a wave of prelims, Cornell needs to pick up the slack and either be more active in assisting students or take a direct role in the search process.


Roei Dery is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Dery Bar runs every other Thursday this semester.