The abysmal state of Brandeis housing
With the announcement of the 2024-25 housing application, the entire Brandeis community felt the onset of housing anxiety and some déjà vu from last year’s chaotic housing crisis. The Justice editorial board would like to address key concerns that have been left unmet from last year and years past.
Since its origins as Middlesex College, Brandeis has been constantly looking for ways to remedy increased housing needs, with varying levels of success. While many of Middlesex’s structures were demolished to make way for new infrastructure as Brandeis expanded, a few structures have remained in some capacity. Examples include Usen Castle — previously “Smith” castle — and the Ridgewood Cottages, which were both used by Brandeis as student housing. Usen Castle is no longer used as student housing, as much of it was demolished due to crumbling infrastructure and to make space to build Skyline Residence Hall. Similarly, the original Ridgewood Cottages were demolished to build the current Ridgewood Quad. While these updates to Middlesex infrastructure have increased the number of undergraduate residential halls, they have not provided nearly enough to match increased housing needs.
Over the years, Brandeis has tried to put several plans in place to improve campus as a whole, including increasing housing to address the ever- present housing crises. Two notable plans have been the “Saarinen Plan” and the 2000 Master Plan. However, neither plan has been fully realized. This lack of follow-through on Brandeis’ part is cause for concern, as the University has continually shown its inability to accommodate for the increased housing needs as class sizes grow larger.
Presently, Brandeis offers a total of 19 different residential areas for undergraduate students exclusively, ranging from traditional residence halls to apartment style suites. First year students live in traditional residence halls either in North Quad, Massell Quad or East Quad. The North and Massell Quads contain four buildings each with double occupancy rooms, forced and natural triple occupancy rooms and a few single occupancy rooms. East Quad similarly has double occupancy rooms, natural triple occupancy rooms and single occupancy rooms, but is home to both first year and sophomore students.
Sophomores and upperclassmen can live in traditional residence halls or apartment-style halls, with some options being exclusive to upperclassmen. Sophomore exclusive housing includes Rosenthal Residence Halls comprising three buildings of eight-person suites. Mixed sophomore and upperclassmen housing includes Village Quad, Skyline Residence Hall, 567 South Street Apartments and the Charles River Apartments. Village Quad and Skyline are traditional residence halls with double and single occupancy rooms. Village Quad consists of three towers, while Skyline is made of two towers. 567 South Street Apartments are double occupancy apartments. Charles River Apartments, affectionately known as “Grad,” are apartment style dormitories with a variety of single, double, three-person and five-person occupancy apartments. Charles River Apartments is made up of four buildings. There was not enough housing for this year’s sophomore class, so more of Grad was designated as sophomore-only housing than in previous years. This left less housing for upperclassmen and contributed to the housing crisis last spring.
Upperclassmen exclusive housing includes Ziv Quad, Ridgewood and the Foster Mods. Ziv consists of four buildings of six-person suites. Ridgewood is three buildings consisting of both four and six-person apartments. Foster Mods are six-person apartment buildings, housing approximately 180 students.
While first year and sophomore students are guaranteed housing, rising upperclassmen have to participate in a lottery system to determine their housing for the next year — a system that only guarantees housing to some.
While this is not a new system, last year, following the typical lottery system for housing, hundreds of juniors and seniors were denied on-campus housing. All housing was gone by 2 p.m. on the first day of upperclassman selection, while in past years, some options were almost always available going into the second day. Students with accommodations and students who could not afford the time or money to live off-campus were scrambling to find housing. Andrea Dine, the vice president of Student Affairs, held listening hours to hear from affected students.
In a June 13 email to the community, the University offered housing at Lasell University, a ten-minute drive from campus. Meal plans would be applicable at both schools and there would be a shuttle to and from Brandeis and Lasell. However, this option would complicate transportation and the daily lives of students, and students who had accommodations were left out of the picture.
The housing at Lasell University was ultimately not used as all students who requested on-campus housing ultimately received a placement.
Additionally, while many students receive on-campus housing, the majority of it is not accessible to students with physical disabilities. All have stairs, and only Ziv, Skyline and Ridgewood have elevators. Most do not have automatic doors either, including Ziv. Deroy Hall in Massell has a door with a ramp, but the door opens into a stairwell. Buildings have handicap-accessible bathrooms on floors that are inaccessible by wheelchair. This board understands that making these buildings accessible is expensive, but it is our belief that it is worth money to ensure students with physical disabilities can live on campus. Doing otherwise goes against Brandeis’ mission of “tikkun olam,” or making the world a better place.
Many dorms have also been plagued with issues, from mice in Ziv to black mold in both Massell and Ziv. Students in Ziv last semester were forced to become expert exterminators and students with black mold had to relocate several times for problems to be fixed. Wasps infested Rosie and forced students to relocate as well.
Despite Facilities and DCL’s best efforts to regulate these problems, they pose a huge risk to student health. Going off-campus is not much better as students face stubborn landlords and costly facilities bills. Student housing is directly connected to students’ well-being and health, and The Justice editorial board strongly encourages the administration to invest more in the infrastructure of the University.
This year, the University opened housing applications on an earlier timeline in an effort to give students more time to find off-campus housing if they did not get lucky in the lottery. However, without increasing housing and support for infrastructure, students will likely run into the same problems as last year.
Brandeis does provide some helpful resources for finding off-campus housing through the Brandeis Community Living website and the Office of Graduate Affairs. Located on both websites is a link to a Brandeis specific off-campus housing search in partnership with Apartments.com. While Brandeis provides these resources, they are under-advertised. For graduate students, these websites are seemingly the only resources available. Presently, graduate students are not provided with any on-campus housing.
Selection is going to be increasingly difficult this year, as the classes of 2025 and 2026 are Brandeis’ biggest classes ever. Both will be in the same upperclassman housing pool with the same amount of housing as usual, meaning more students will be left stranded once housing options are gone. If Brandeis does not invest in long-term solutions to solve housing problems and update old infrastructure, additional issues will arise, including health risks in on-campus housing and an increase in Brandeis’ contribution to the gentrification of Waltham. We urge Brandeis to address the root causes of the housing shortage and dorm safety issues instead of only finding short-term solutions. We noted that this would be an issue last year, and it will likely be again in 2024. If no action is taken, we will see the same issue this year as we did last year — and a similar editorial will be published next January.