May 7, 2023

WEIRENS | The Downfall of Collegetown Slumlords

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Administration sent out an email earlier this week, notifying the student body about a significant housing change. The bottom line is that, for the first time ever, Cornell upperclass students have first choice access to on-campus housing. Acquiring on-campus housing is generally a difficult process for upperclass students, available only to a very select few. The rest are thrown to the salivating maws of the Collegetown slumlords, who charge inflated prices for squalor. Egregious leases charging students improperly are rampant, but  proliferate in this desperate environment which students are forced to navigate. Students have little choice but to sign or be without housing. Fellow The Cornell Daily Sun writer Niko Nguyen describes the dreadful and complicated situation well in their previous article, which I urge all to read. Simply put, there has been more students than housing available, which gives a handful of scalping landlords tyrannical rule over the market. The powerless student body has been victim to horrible housing conditions, insane prices, and predatory leases they cannot escape. Cornell offering upperclass students veritable housing is a godsend, although extremely overdue.

I do find it interesting that Cornell would withhold this announcement until this spring.  Notifying the student body of this change just a few months sooner would’ve handed current sophomores more negotiating power and better decision-making capabilities, who, myself included, fiercely fought in the bloodbath of Collegetown housing last fall in the belief it was our only option. I keenly remember the desperation I and my friend had: After weeks of extreme stress, empty online searches, unanswered emails, fruitless calls and endless deadends, we were forced to skip class on a Friday morning in September to attempt an in-person acquisition. We spent the morning chasing around a landlord on a construction site, our moms both coaching in real-time on the phone, attempting to get the property before the clamoring hoard around us did. Needless to say, we were victorious but still ended up signing a sky-high lease. Even though the supply for this upcoming year would’ve been the same, the ignorance that we had certainly didn’t help our case, or the cases of our fellow sophomores, in signing leases and planning our housing futures. I don’t understand why Cornell wouldn’t give their students that shred of information earlier (even with no guarantees) since they’ve obviously been planning this transition for years. 

Regardless of the information timeline, this decision is going to affect every class differently. Our graduating seniors couldn’t care less, of course. Juniors aren’t really affected either, as they’ve already signed leases for their final year. My class, however, the sophomores, are in a strange situation. Do we reverse adulthood and revert back to dorm living after a year of living in apartments and houses? For some people, they will quickly discover having to clean their own bathroom isn’t a preference for them just yet. Many will already know that reverting back to the dorms is the right move for them, craving the convenience and simplicity of dorm life. Others I know are well-prepared for domesticity, and cannot wait to get off campus to cook their own food, throw their own parties and live their private lives separate from Cornell. There are also people like myself, who don’t really know what they want. Maybe I’ll move into my housing and realize the property sucks, the neighbors are crazy and I need a house husband to do the chores. On the other hand, maybe I’ll enjoy the taste of independence, and the trumped-up rent and extra commute time will be worth it. I predict that the slumlords will capitalize on people like me in an attempt to cling onto market power by pressuring their tenants to sign their leases for a second year almost instantly in August or September, before the tenants will have a chance to see if they actually like their current lifestyle and arrangement. I hope mine will be merciful, but doubt it. 

Anyway, our current first year class is going to be unaffected this upcoming year, as they have their choice on-campus housing locked down, but going forward rising sophomores will certainly be getting the short end of the stick. They will be required to still live on-campus for sophomore year, but are going to get the housing dregs that the upper-class students don’t want and what isn’t designated for first years. If anything though, they will at least be informed and not have to worry about the bloodbath of signing a lease this fall. 

The incoming first years are going to be fine. They’re going into college knowing their options, the situation and that they will always have guaranteed housing through Cornell. Should they choose to live in Collegetown, prices will (hopefully) be more reasonable and the housing more livable.  

Overall, I just hope that Cornell’s decision to extend housing to all students will necessitate the need for landlords to clean up their slums and make pricing more competitive and fair. The reign of Collegetown slumlords is finally at a close. 

Aurora Weirens is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. The Northern Light runs alternate Sundays this semester.