News, Off Campus, Featured Story

ResLife Hopes To Ease Off-Campus Housing Process With New Website

For students not guaranteed four years of housing, the search for a place to live off campus can be all-consuming. To simplify the process, the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) plans on rolling out a new website at the end of the month that will consolidate all major resources for off campus living into one location.

Partnering with the third party Off Campus Partners—along with Suffolk University and Northeastern University—ResLife hopes to build a database that will allow students to connect with realtors and landlords, browse pictures of available properties as well as a comprehensive list of amenities, and find roommates or subletters.

“This is what we’re going to tell everyone needs to be their first point of contact because they can more easily—without even contacting a realtor—connect with properties and see it and not waste their time going to it and finding out you didn’t like what it looked like,” said Peter Kwiatek, assistant director of Off Campus Housing. “You can see it on the map, you can see photos of it much more easily.”

The resources that were given to students in the past consisted of a basic list of realtors and a sheet of paper with listings that had only basic information such as rent per unit, address, and number of residents. In the past, many students would come into his office with these sheets printed out and have no idea what they were supposed to do, Kwiatek said.

One of the key features of the site—and one that Kwiatek believes will be the most popular and useful for students—is an interactive map that allows students to see the proximity of different properties to campus.

“A lot of people are concerned about location,” Kwiatek said. “That’s the number one priority for most people: location and price.”

Kwiatek sees the impacted groups on campus as being undergraduates with only three years of housing, transfer students with only one year of guaranteed housing, and any faculty, graduate students, or teaching assistants who is new to the Boston area. These groups will be heavily targeted through emails and information sessions, and Kwiatek also wants to get Human Resources involved to give information to new faculty and staff who are unsure of housing options in the area.

The biggest struggle that Kwiatek foresees is getting students to use the site. Many students disregard or are confused by the resources that the University provides them, according to Kwiatek, preferring to try to find housing on their own.

“It’s kind of a catch-22 in the sense that the more traffic, the more students that use the site, the more agents are going to want to post more properties on the site,” Kwiatek said. “And then the more properties, the more students are going to want to use it.”

A potential complication that students will face in the future will be whether their housing will be in compliance with the city’s “No More Than Four” zoning ordinance which prohibits more than four undergraduates living under the same roof, something that Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, is intending to heavily enforce.

“If students want to live in those environments, which we don’t advise, they won’t be able to do it through us,” Kwiatek said.

Housing that violates the ‘No More Than Four’ ordinance can often be owned by landlords that are given poor referrals by their tenants. While there is no official rating system for landlords, Off Campus Partners and the universities involved will closely monitor complaints regarding landlords. Landlords or realtors that are accused of misrepresenting their properties or providing substandard housing for students will be pulled, pending a review by the University.

Ultimately, ResLife hopes that searches for all off campus housing will be done through the new website, but he said that depends on the number of students who use the site and the number of realtors that list properties. Regardless of the number of people who end up using the site, Kwiatek believes that the website is the best starting point for students or faculty to find housing.

“We recommend that everyone start their search on our website,” Kwiatek said. “Word of mouth and all that is great, but start here and see what you can do here, and if that’s not going to work out, go somewhere else. But definitely make this your first point of contact.”

Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff

January 22, 2015