Off-campus housing search frustrates students

By AMY HAN | February 16, 2017

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CINDY JIANG/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Nine East 33rd is one of many off-campus housing options in Charles Village available to upperclassmen.

The University has a two-year on-campus residency requirement for students, and while there are some University housing options available to upperclassmen, the majority of undergraduates move off campus following their sophomore year.

Students execute the housing search at their own pace, some choosing to begin at the start of sophomore year, while others wait until later in the spring semester.

Sophomore Sophia Szu filled out an application for the new apartment complex Nine East 33rd early in the school year and signed her lease before the start of the spring semester.

“I started searching before Thanksgiving break, but I already knew I wanted Nine East,” Szu said. “I just went straight for the application with my three housemates and we heard back from them a little later. I signed my contract during winter break, and I was all set.”

Others, including sophomore Beatrice Shim, sought the assistance of upperclassmen to make living arrangements for the following year.

“I got most of my information and help from upperclassmen,” Shim wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I’m thinking about moving into a graduating senior’s apartment next year. Other than finding a place that suited all my roommate’s interests, I didn’t run into any issues because we had good connections.”

While some students have little trouble finding housing, the process has presented unprecedented challenges for others. In order to secure housing off-campus, students not only have to factor in safety, prices and closeness to the Homewood Campus but must also carry out unfamiliar tasks such as signing a lease and making deposits to their landlord.

Sophomore Alisha Vavilakolanu cited her concerns about financial aid after moving off campus.

“I’m lucky that I found a place that fell within my budget, but I know that isn’t the case for many students,” Vavilakolanu said. “On top of that, the University has provided almost no assistance to students as far as finding and leasing a new apartment goes. Most of the information I got was from word of mouth.”

Sophomore Jaycee Yao added that international students especially have a hard time finding guarantors.

“We were a little perplexed at first as to who could be our guarantors. The problem is especially burdensome for international students whose parents don’t work here in the U.S.,” Yao wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I think finding a guarantor to sign my lease is the greatest obstacle that I have encountered. Although my mother does have a SSN, she doesn’t have a job, and so she was not qualified for being my guarantor.”

According to Off-Campus Housing Coordinator Hana Hasan, the University’s Off-Campus Housing Office supports students as they transition into and throughout their time living off-campus. The office’s website and apartment database provides a range of information about the different apartment options around campus, from maps to price comparisons, and includes tips for understanding leases, finding roommates and resolving conflicts with landlords.

“There will always be students that figure out this process on their own with the information we provide online. However, many students will come to our office and/or attend the different events that we host with various questions,” Hasan wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Our information session is a great event where we talk through the steps for securing housing, and students are able to ask a lot of questions and hear directly from other students that have gone through the process.”

The office hosts housing fairs for students to receive information from, and communicate directly with, multiple property managers from the area every year. On Wednesday, the Office held their second meet-and-greet of the school year.

According to sophomore Oscar Castillo, the event was an opportunity for students still looking for housing to understand their options.

“The booths were very helpful as they told us a lot information. All the handouts they gave us were really useful because they keep everything very organized. I didn’t know most of these places coming in,” said Castillo.

Sophomore Brenda Zhang noted that while the fair was slightly overwhelming, she appreciated the Off-Campus Housing Office’s efforts.

“We didn’t actually know where we were going to live and didn’t know what booths to look at, so it was kind of confusing,” she said. “I do think that the University is doing a good job though, especially since most people don’t even bother going to these events. If you care, the University is definitely providing enough.”

Junior Belu Wu, who attended a similar event last year, said that going to the fair had helped answer all her questions. However, Wu believes more frequent emails from the Office about leasing opportunities and deadlines would be a great addition.

“The [Office] even handed out flash drives with the documents and maps that they had shown during the presentation so that we could look at them on our own. I thought that was really great,” Wu said. “I think it would be helpful if the Off-Campus Housing Office sent out email reminders for students to start looking for housing earlier in the year, because I personally had no idea that leasing periods started so early.”

Wu had applied to her first choice, Nine East 33rd, in the winter and was put on a waitlist because she had not known about the early application process and the popularity of the building.

Nine East 33rd, a new apartment complex close to the Homewood Campus, has quickly become the one of the most sought after buildings for students living off campus. This year, applications were made available at the beginning of the fall semester and the available spots were quickly filled.

Sophomore Alex Rodriguez is having a difficult time finding alternatives to Nine East 33rd due to the late notice that he would not receive housing. Rodriguez says he and his friends applied to live in the building early in December but did not hear back from them for over a month, and the decision was continuously delayed.

Eventually, they were told that the building was already close to being filled and that their four-person housing group would have to be split up.

“They told us that they were at 97% capacity for 4-bedroom suites and that we would likely have to split up our housing group. We were displeased to hear this news, since we could have looked at other housing options if Nine East informed us much earlier,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “We were put into a tight spot to look for housing with much fewer choices than there were in the fall semester.”

He also suggests that the Off-Campus Housing Office send out reminders to students to start the housing search earlier in the year.

“Being informed about housing is very important, so I feel the university did a good job with the fairs,” he wrote. “Other than that, there wasn’t a significant amount of communication between the Off Campus Housing office and the students. I would recommend for the university to encourage students to start the housing search early in the fall semester and not to apply too late.”

Gina Kim, a transfer student who had also hoped to be able to find housing at Nine East 33rd, was surprised by how early students had to begin their housing searches in order to secure their first choice.

“I started really looking for off-campus housing when I came back from winter break,” Kim wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I initially looked for housing with two other people, and we first went to Nine East, but the wait list there was already long — people had started signing up in October, which was only a month and a half since I had started here at Hopkins as a transfer student.”

While many others have been facing issues finding alternatives to Nine East 33rd, Hasan emphasizes that there are still many options available.

“Being the newest building in the area, we are not surprised that Nine East is one of the more popular buildings,” Hasan said. “However, there are approximately 20 commercial apartment buildings within walking distance to the Homewood campus, so students should not worry about finding suitable housing for their junior year.”

She encourages students to reach out to the office and attend more events in the future.  

“Even after our students move off campus, we want to ensure they feel connected to the Homewood community and have the support and resources to ensure a positive and successful experience,” Hasan said. “We plan to continue with our major events such as the Meet & Greet and Off-Campus Housing Fair as well as plan new and exciting events throughout the school year to keep the students informed and excited about this next step in their undergraduate experience here at Hopkins.”

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