Univ tackles housing concerns
Housing lottery numbers for the 2012-2013 academic year were issued two weeks ago, and the lack of sufficient space has become an immediate concern for many students, especially upperclassmen, who are currently not guaranteed housing. While expansion and renovation have emerged as popular topics in the strategic planning discussion, the University's plans to address the issue of student housing remains unclear.
In recent weeks, Brandeis has been looking at off-campus properties in order to potentially incorporate them into the residential housing system. "It is not inconceivable to think that we may come out of the strategic planning process with a strategic real estate acquisition program," said Mark Collins, Senior Vice President of Administration, in an interview with the Justice. Collins emphasized that Brandeis' administration has no definitive plan to expand off-campus housing, but added that he has been "looking periodically at different real estate off campus, with the possibility of buying them."
Collins confirmed that he has looked at approximately six properties in the past five years. Recently, one landlord contacted him about the possibility of buying houses at 227 and 229 South Street, while another emailed him about a 55,000 square foot commercial property on Charles Street. He said he has been to see the South Street buildings but did not pursue the offer and planned to visit the Charles Street property in the near future.
According to Collins, these kind of occurrences are not out of the ordinary. "What happens is people once in a while call," he said. "As an institution, a lot of people … see us as a place that may need additional housing space."
"From the strategic planning process one could also potentially see the possibility of … more graduate student housing and potentially faculty housing," Collins suggested.
Should Brandeis develop a plan in the future to expand university housing in Waltham, relations with the neighborhood and the city would be taken into account, said Collins. Important considerations include the effect on local residents and establishments as well as the possibility that the University would be "taking taxable property off the tax rolls" by buying houses or other real estate. "We don't do that in a vacuum," Collins said of University planning.
Brandeis currently owns off-campus properties such as 567 South Street and the Charles River apartments, which are considered part of the residential housing system, as well as graduate fine art studios on Prospect Street.
According to Jeremy Leiferman, senior director of the Department of Community Living, 2,834 students, or about 81 percent of all undergraduates, currently live in on-campus housing. Including graduate students, the total drops to just under 49 percent.
This leaves 19 percent of undergraduates living off campus for various reasons. Clair Weatherby '12 said that she moved into a house off campus this past fall as a result of not being able to live on campus with her roommates. "They ran out of housing before our numbers," said Weatherby, referring to last year's housing lottery in an email to the Justice. "I was on the wait list, but I didn't want to live with random people."
While Weatherby said that "overall, living off campus is cheaper, feels more independent and is more comfortable," she added that "I live very close to campus, so I do not feel the downside of walking long distances to get to campus that other people do."
In an effort to aid students seeking to live off campus, the Department of Community Living has recently partnered with the housing search website JumpOffCampus, Leiferman said in an email to the Justice. JumpOffCampus is described on its website as "an online resource for University students meant to facilitate their search for off-campus housing, but also offer value to Landlords and Universities."
Adding to the strain on the housing system is last year's enrollment of 972 first-years in Brandeis' largest class to date, the Class of 2015.
This year, 225 first-years live in 75 lofted triples, up from last year's figures of 90 students in 30 lofted triples, according to a Sept. 13 Justice article. Leiferman noted in the article that "the increased number of sophomores next year will likely result in fewer beds for juniors and seniors." Members of the Class of 2015, now rising sophomores, are guaranteed housing for another full academic year.
Brian Lee '15 drew number 904 in the housing lottery this year. "That will give me a single in Einstein [Bros. Bagels]," Lee joked in an interview with the Justice. Lee added that he hopes to live in East Quad if he is pulled in by a friend, or in a single in one of the first-year quads, Massell or North. Last year, singles in Massell were all selected by number 777, while a few North singles remained at the end of the process, according to the Department of Community Living's website.
Brandeis is targeting a class size of 855 for the incoming Class of 2016, comparable to the Class of 2014's 869 students, according to the Sept. 13 article.
The number at which all housing lottery numbers run out has fluctuated from year to year, with the highest point since 2004 being 2,136 (2009) and the low 1,404 (2005), according to the Department of Community Living's website.
Students who do not receive housing during the lottery can opt to be placed on a wait list, which has been able to fulfill all requests for the past three years, according to the website. On-campus housing can currently accommodate approximately three fourths of juniors and seniors.
"There is clearly a focus on our campus housing at this point in time," said Collins. "We have some identified needs, whether it is to fix old buildings that we have or potentially build new ones to satisfy the housing needs of a whole bunch of populations that we serve."
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