President Liebowitz and Univ. admin holds listening session to provide a forum about housing concerns
Students raised questions to President Liebowitz and other administrators about housing options for next year.
It was Brandeis students’ last day of classes on May 3, and University administrators held a listening session addressing student housing concerns. The session took place in Goldfarb Library’s Rapaporte Treasure Hall at 1:30 p.m.
In addition to President Ron Liebowitz who hosted the discussion, Vice President for Campus Operations Lois Stanley; Vice President of Student Affairs Andrea Dine; Assistant Vice President of Student Financial Services Sherri Avery; and Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Shelby Harris helped answer students’ questions. Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lee Bitsóí took notes on a whiteboard behind him, and Director of DEI Education and Learning Initiatives Dr. Charles Chip Mc Neal moderated the session.
After an introduction by Mc Neal, Liebowitz addressed the audience. He acknowledged that the class of 2026’s size is unprecedented and that the University “yielded” 76 more students in the class of 2026 than they expected. Liebowtiz also said the University has “no plans to grow” its student body.
In the fall 2023 term, 75 to 80% of students will be living on campus, Dine said.
Liebowitz stated that there are 2,800 beds total. He added that Brandeis “has always had a shortage of beds and expected students to live off campus.” In previous years, he said, students who got housing dropped out, freeing up space on the waitlist. He said he expects students to do the same this year.
A student asked if there were projects “down the pipeline” for new on-campus housing. Stanley said that in the 2021-22 academic year, her office did a “housing program study” on what “the next 20 years of renovation” would look like for Brandeis, but there are no plans in the immediate future to begin new construction.
Many students asked if the administration was looking into emergency housing. Liebowitz and Dine stated that they were negotiating with various partners to find more solutions, but they did not offer any details on who they were speaking with or how soon they would be able to announce new housing options.
The University expected more students to live off-campus prior to the housing selection. This plan may contradict the City of Waltham. At the session, a student raised a concern about a recent Waltham City Council resolution called “Preserving Residentially Zoned Neighborhoods.” The resolution, if enforced, would displace those who don’t fit into the “single family home” category, such as students, from parts of Waltham. Stanley said she was unaware of the resolution.
One student asked if the University would be open to using their endowment to fund emergency housing alternatives. “It’s a tricky thing,” Dine said. “The endowment … is able long-term to provide more funding for the entire institution. So, in general the goal is not to tap [into it].”
Students were worried about losing financial assistance due to living off campus, but Avery stated that off-campus students can still receive financial aid during the nine month period from September to May. On average, it is cheaper to live off campus than on campus, according to Avery. She estimated that it costs $12,000 per year to live off campus, with rent and utilities combined costing $941 per month, and food costing $390 per month. The estimate of $12,000 was calculated based on undergraduates’ leases during the 2022-2023 academic year. On the other hand, the estimated cost to live on campus is $19,000, which covers the costs of housing and an all-access meal plan.
However, students pointed out that while off-campus housing may be cheaper in the long run, students face steeper upfront costs such as the first and last month’s rent and security deposits. The financial aid timeline does not align well with the Brandeis housing selection process, and because of increased competition, any delay in receiving financial aid or updates on alternative housing could cause someone to lose out on signing a lease off-campus.
If students’ financial aid exceeds the cost of tuition and fees, they will receive a refund that they can use to pay off campus housing costs. However, regulations state that the University cannot give a refund taken out from next school year’s financial aid for fall until 10 days before the start of the fall semester.
Avery acknowledged that this would make it difficult for students to pay first and last month’s rent during the summer. The Office of Student Financial Services is willing to write letters to landlords confirming that rent will be paid but at a later date. Whether or not a letter would suffice is up to the landlord.
If students pursuing off campus housing incur costs greater than $12,000, they can start an appeal process with the proper documentation to receive more funds from the University. Students can tap into funds of up to $7,000, which is the gap between the price of on-campus and off-campus housing. However, every situation is unique and Avery recommended students talk with their financial aid counselors.
Using emergency funds to cover rent is also not an option because rent is included in the cost of attendance for financial aid. Brandeis’ policy is to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need, so rent is covered and emergency funds cannot be used for this situation.
Another student asked why not all students who had received accommodations for housing received a housing option that met their accommodations. “Juniors and seniors … are not guaranteed housing here [with an accommodation] ... The keyword [is] available accommodations.” Harris said. “We cannot make [housing] stock that doesn’t exist.” She added the University would work on messaging to students to make that clearer.
Other suggestions for improving the housing selection process included shifting the process to earlier in the semester so that students who cannot obtain on campus housing can start searching off campus earlier. Moreover, students pushed the Department of Community Living to utilize their data on roommate groups and selection times to determine how many students could receive on campus housing. Dine agreed that the administration should use data to increase transparency, make the housing process earlier, and avoid stacking deadlines.
Aliza Fine ’25 pointed out that the decision to waive the fee for staying on the housing waitlist for too long came too late. Students had already left the waiting list because they were afraid of forgetting and incurring a fee. According to a Justice phone communication with DCL on May 9, students can email DCL to re-enter the waitlist.
Concluding the listening session, Dine said students who still have questions should “feel free to email Student Affairs.” In an April 28 email to faculty, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke asked professors to advise students with housing concerns to contact the Offices of Student Affairs and Student Financial Services.
After the listening session concluded, the Justice spoke with Natasha Girshin ’25, who commented that the administration’s responses were vague and uninformed. Girshin said that the administration did not seem to care about students’ welfare.
A week following the listening session, students are still waiting to hear from the University on next steps. A student asked at the listening session if there was a guarantee that those on the waiting list would receive housing. Liebowitz said he could not answer that question at that time. Later in the session he added, “I am confident that we will find a way to get housing for all the students that need it.”
Even though the University is creating spaces for students to express their concerns and has assured students that they are working on a solution, students have no set date from the University on University-provided alternative housing and will have to find their own housing off-campus in the meantime.
Daphne Ballesteros ’24 is one of those students. She emphasized how Brandeis’ housing crisis has disproportionately impacted low-income students like herself. “I will be homeless next year … this is terrifying,” she said. She highlighted Brandeis’ history as a social justice University committed to helping marginalized communities, but argued that their response to the housing crisis does not reflect the University’s mission. She urged the administration working on solutions to consider the very communities that the University was established to help.