Q&A: Assistant Director of Housing Operations Angelic Sosa discusses housing issues

Angelic Sosa, assistant director of housing operations, poses for a portrait. Courtesy Angelic Sosa

Housing at Tufts is nothing if not complicated. With the creation of CoHo, the introduction of the tiered housing system and the upcoming move of first-years from Houston Hall to Miller Hall, there is a need for more clarity, information and assistance. Tufts hired a new assistant director of housing operations, Angelic Sosa, in the summer of 2018. A reporter from the Daily sat down with Sosa to learn about her past experiences and her future plans to help students navigate off-campus housing.

The Tufts Daily (TD): Can you give background on your current position, assistant director of housing operations, and why it was created?

Angelic Sosa (AS): I think Tufts has been going through a period of needing extra housing. Everyone needs extra housing. We’ve had a number of students, more than a number honestly — we’ve got a big chunk of students living off campus, and what we were finding is there was a lot of stuff that was happening with the landlords or with students not fully understanding the leases that they signed or other situations that arose that the students needed better education on. We’re running into a situation where we have a lot of students who have never done this before. So it was really important to us that yes, we want to get more housing on campus — that is our ultimate goal — but in the interim period, we have a need for something that’s going to help. So my role is really to help educate students, to help work with students who are dealing with issues off campus.

TD: What are the key ways in which you assist students in the off-campus housing process?

AS: I help students with lease reviews, whether they’re getting ready to sign a lease and they’re not sure if it’s standard, or maybe they have some questions about it or some situations where they’ve lived in the house for a period of time and they feel like something is not right. I’ll review the situation with them and look over their lease to see if the landlord should actually being doing what they are doing. My goal is to provide them with a lot of different resources, whether it’s just education on general topics, which is … similar to what we’re doing in our off-campus housing series … but also helping them with … more specific situations and pointing them in the right direction if they need legal services … We’re really here to help educate and serve as a resource for students.

TD: Can you elaborate on the off-campus housing series?

AS: It’s an educational series … which is giving a broad overview of different areas that students should be paying attention to. We had our first one on [Sept. 27] … There are a lot of students right now who are finding off-campus housing for next year, signing their leases a year in advance, and they’re not really sure what they should be looking for. Our goal with the off-campus housing series is to educate them on what that process looks like. I would explain to them why I wouldn’t suggest signing a lease a year in advance. There’s a lot of things that kind of go with that whether … you changed your mind, you don’t like the house anymore or you found something that’s a little more affordable. [You could have also signed] with people [in which] the relationship might not be intact … or maybe your plans changed and you decided you’re going to go abroad, or you decided you’re going to take some time off from school. The tricky thing is that once you have signed that lease, you’re tied in. There are situations where students can find a subletter in the interim period, and if you can find that, it can still be a tricky situation. But it is something that’s possible, especially if you’re considering other students who are abroad. But make sure you’re educated.

[On the 27th], we went over a lot of that and talked about financial aid and helping with off-campus housing. We had some speakers from [the] financial aid [office] come through to do a presentation for students. This upcoming Oct. 25, we’re going to be doing a presentation on leases as well as tenancy rights. I’m going to be [providing] some information about leases, like what are some common things that should be in the lease, what are some questions you should be asking, making sure that you actually read those leases. A lot of times, landlords are going to hand you a small print, 10-page document that students don’t read, and that’s not just students — a lot of people don’t read [them]. It’s really important because you have no idea what you could be signing away to. We’re also going to bring in speakers from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, as well as from the Tufts Office of Equal Opportunity, to go over tenancy rights and information regarding discrimination. Our final two meetings are in November. One is going to focus on after you’ve arrived and before you leave: So you’ve gotten into your apartment and maybe you’re having some landlord issues. How do you deal with those things? Or before you leave, what are the things you need to take care of? How do you ensure you get your deposit back? What does that process look like? There’s also some neighborhood information as well, so we’ll bring in someone from [the Office of] Community Relations to help out with that. And the last [meeting] will be about the housing lottery for those students who wish to remain on campus.

TD: Can you explain some of the issues with finding affordable off-campus housing and some of the things you do to address them?

AS: What we’re finding is that especially around the perimeter — because that’s where a lot of our students are living — the competition is the students, themselves. They’re competing with each other. You’ll run into a situation where someone will find a house, and they really like it, but they’re not sure yet, and the landlord will tell them “I’ve got five other people who are interested in signing, so either you can sign it now and pay me first, last and security a year in advance, or I’ll go to the next person.” A lot of times, you’re going to run into a situation where landlords are recognizing that there is that need, so they’re going to increase the price. That is supply and demand. What we really want students to recognize is that if you just hold off a little bit, there are a lot of students who want to live on campus but are fearing that that’s not a possibility. It is a close possibility, and we definitely have had a lot of students still live on campus during their junior year and senior year, so my advice is to wait and see what your lottery number looks like. If you’re waitlisted, we’ve even taken people from the waitlist, as well. So wait to see what that looks like before jumping and signing something.

However, landlords are still taking advantage of that. They acknowledge that there’s a need. A student is fearful that they’re not going to find something [on-campus] or they just want to move off-campus. So with that, especially closer to campus where a lot of students are looking, landlords are looking at higher prices. We sent out a survey recently, and a lot of the information we were gathering was from students who are currently off campus. We asked what their rent looks like, what type of utilities are they paying, what are some issues that they dealt with with their landlords. This is really to help us plan out the [off-campus housing series] and to be able to give some general information that students are going to find useful. We also did a comparison between what it would look like to live on-campus in some of our premium apartments or standard singles and then our apartments versus what the typical costs are looking like for students who responded to the survey.

What we’re seeing is that there’s a number somewhere between $700 and $900 a month for general rent costs. What we’re finding a lot is that students want to live with their friends, and it’s not always “It’s two or three of us [or] four of us,” depending on the area — there are certain zoning ordinances that are required for that — but also “There’s eight of us, and we need to find a two-apartment flat,” and it’s really difficult to try and track that down. A lot of those tend to be around the perimeter, and those are the higher prices. We’re also seeing, with students not having the right education and not knowing what they should be charged for, what should be in their lease. Not knowing their zoning ordinances, they’re running into situations where they live in Somerville and you can’t have more than four non-related people living in an apartment, and there’s five of them, and maybe the landlord has said “Don’t sign that lease.” It’s really not okay; there’s so much wrong with that. The other situation is that people are wanting more people not only because they’re friends, but because it will bring the prices down. There’s a difference between splitting a $4,000-a-month rent between four people versus five people, so I understand why people would do that. But at the end of the day, if it could potentially result in eviction, is it really worth taking that risk? We want to make sure the students are seeing those types of things and understanding that that’s a real risk. We want to make sure the students are understanding that depending on what the apartment looks like or when it was built, you shouldn’t be charged for water. Those are little things that really add up and really add to the bill at the end of the day. I think the response for a lot of people is ultimately “How much is this going to cost me?”

TD: Are there any specific past cases where students have been evicted or have had serious trouble with their landlords?

AS: I’ve only been here since the beginning of July, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with multiple people … I haven’t heard of any specific evictions that I can think of, though I can say it’s still a possibility. However, there have been a number of issues with landlords. Some have to do with the turnaround time between the last tenant leaving and the new tenant moving in: Maybe the landlord hasn’t gone in, hasn’t thrown away garbage, hasn’t cleaned the unit, hasn’t made any major repairs. A lot of times, because students are signing those leases so far in advance, I’ve come across plenty of leases that say, “You’re taking this house as is,” but you can’t really be taking something “as is” if you saw it a year prior in a different state. And then who’s responsible for taking care of that? Technically it’s a landlord. Say for instance there’s a student house where they broke the washing machine. That should come out of the security deposit — that’s not something that should then be charged to that student. That’s what the security deposit is there for. But also for the new people moving in, that [broken washing machine] is not something they should be charged for either. I have heard some things like that like “It wasn’t clean” or “Maintenance wasn’t taken care of” or even just “The landlord wasn’t pleasant.” There also have been a couple of people who’ve said “I think I’m getting charged for water, and I’m not supposed to.” We need to look into that because that’s not okay, and that means in those particular situations, [students] are being taken advantage of for not having that information.

TD: Has the increase in Tufts students moving off campus affected the gentrification of Davis Square?

AS: I think the tricky thing here is the difference between ownership and renting. Unfortunately, in any area that’s seen a boom in the economy and any growth in general … there’s always going to be fear of gentrification. I just came from San Francisco, and it’s a huge thing there … You’re always going to have people who have always lived in the area and don’t necessarily want to leave but can’t afford to live there anymore. You’re also going to have people like we have here: … landlords who own multiple properties here and rent them out to students for a steady income. There’s always going to be someone who needs that housing. So it’s really tricky in terms of the difference between renting and owning because the owners are really just perpetuating that, year after year, with different groups of people who stay in the area. But I think that’s going to happen anywhere you’ve got a large economic boom, and that’s what’s happening here and in the Boston area. Particularly because it’s so expensive to live in Boston, a lot of people are moving to those outer perimeters like Medford and Somerville.

TD: Can you say anything to address the issue of Tufts students encroaching on the Medford and Somerville communities?

AS: I’m aware of this situation, but I think we’re really trying find options for our students, and a lot is going through some of the CoHo work we’re putting out there to provide more options for students. Because our neighbors, they want to stay where they’ve lived or where their family has lived for a long time, and we understand that. We also need to find housing for our students. And whether that means later on down the line, we come into some money that builds up a great new residence hall, or we’re trying to find those options, we’re going to have situations where either students are going to be in that situation or off campus, and with the off-campus situation, we just want to make sure they’re as educated as possible.

TD: Can you give some background information about the CoHo housing?

AS: I know it’s a lot of the homes that are located on Fairmont, Bellevue and just off of Capen Street. A lot of those spaces are being renovated to provide housing for our upperclassmen, and I think there are anywhere from seven to 12 people per house, depending on the space and how it’s built. Right now, we have about five houses for the fall 2018 semester, and we’re looking to increase that over the next semesters. We’ll have a few more to open next spring, as well as again in the fall semester, and then we’ll see where that leaves us. And that’s definitely going to give us some extra bedding. I think that gives us at least over 120 spaces. That’s something we’re hoping will help relieve some of the frenzy that’s around off-campus housing, and it’s geared toward upperclassmen.

TD: What’s the total number of houses that will be available?

AS: I believe there are about 30 different apartments in that area, but a lot of the apartments are in the same house.

TD: Is there any final advice you’d give to students seeking off-campus housing?

AS: Educate yourselves. Whether that means coming to our sessions, they’re available on Facebook Live. If you’re unable to make it to a meeting, they’ll be archived there for you to view at a later date. I’m also updating our off-campus website with a lot of information. Students are also more than welcome to make meetings with me. We really just want to make sure they’re educated before they make any moves. I think that’s the biggest thing.

TD: Is the off-campus housing website a new resource for students?

AS: It was just launched a few months ago, and we’ve actually seen a really good increase in student use as well as property-lister use. They’ve been utilizing it pretty frequently. We’re hoping to add more things to it. I’m currently in the process of updating our resources page, which includes information about things to look out for when you’re moving off campus. There’s a section about zoning ordinances and noise ordinances. We also have a message board area, where students can communicate with other students, whether it’s “I need a bed” or “I’m selling a bed” or “I’m going abroad, and I need to find someone to sublet my space.” There’s also a roommate section … there’s profiles that people post, and it’s a variety of students. It’s not just students from Tufts; it’s also students from neighboring schools. It’s a good cross-platform that lets you communicate with a lot of different people.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.