University to reinstate off-campus housing coordinator position after five-year vacancy

The sun sets on Sunset Rd., a street on which many Tufts students live, on April 19. Courtesy Sofie Hecht for Tufts University

The Residential Strategies Working Group (RSWG) is in the process of hiring a new off-campus housing (OCH) coordinator for the fall semester, following the elimination of the position five years ago. This coordinator will provide counsel, resources and on going support for undergraduate and graduate students regarding off-campus housing.

The RSWG — which is led by the Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris, in partnership with Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell and Dean of Arts and Sciences James Glaser — will finalize details such as the duties of and the budget for the position within the month, according to Harris. The working group was developed in the spring of 2015 to investigate housing options and provide students with a better residential experience.

Director of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) Yolanda King, who is also part of the RSWG, said that the group is in the process of finalizing the job description and plans to hire the coordinator by August 1.

“We’re doing a national search; a broad search, but we don’t have anybody particular in mind at the moment,” King told the Daily in an email.

According to King, the OCH coordinator’s duties will include liaising between the students and area landlords, communicating information regarding the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords as well as working with students on how to read and interpret leases. The new coordinator will also provide assistance in developing search strategies and education on available housing resources, maintaining safety information on the ResLife website, collaborating with offices such as Community Relations and planning the annual OCH Fair, King said.

Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon, who serves on the RSWG, added that a major component to be considered when hiring for the position will be finding someone with strong communications and community building skills.

“The skills that this person is going to bring in are going to be helpful on the practical side,” she said. “This person will be able to support students navigating the lease process and assist them with finding off-campus housing.”

The position of OCH coordinator exists at other universities across the country, and was an official position at Tufts about five years ago before it was eliminated, King said. According to McMahon, the position was cut at the time due to “economic downturn.”

“We’re excited to have the position,” King said. “We know its something students are definitely interested in for the additional support for resources and services. What’s important about it is they will have someone who they will be able to sit down and talk to in person and work out individual needs.”

In addition to reinstating the position, the RSWG has been working closely with a separate working group comprised of representatives from Campus PlanningFacilities Services, ResLife, Student Affairs and the Office of the Provost to collect student feedback. According to McMahon, this team has been part of a parallel process in reaching out to students in the Tufts community to gather information and feedback about student housing and residential life.

According to McMahon, one major issue students have reported is the need for more support for finding housing in their junior and senior years. She added that another way the committee has been productive has been in strengthening the bond between the university and the surrounding communities of Medford and Somerville.

“Understanding neighbors, understanding long-term residence needs, I think the committee’s been helpful in giving us more direction in partnering with the immediate neighborhood associations,” McMahon said.

According to a March 10 article in the Daily, another goal of the RSWG is to examine the financial impact of these changes and compile a list of recommendations to send to University President Anthony Monaco this month.

Harris confirmed that the RSWG is currently in the process of following through with this goal, for the Board of Trustees meeting that will occur over the weekend of May 20 to 22.

“We are preparing a final report for the president, who will review it, and we will be briefing the trustees when they’re here, which is Commencement weekend,” he said.

Harris said that until the final report has been reviewed and presented to the trustees, the RSWG will not have any definitive findings to report.

“One of the things we’re talking about as part of the RSWG is how we can better manage the off-campus experience,” Harris said. “Everything from students having this feeling that they’re challenged identifying places and negotiating leases, to how to deal with disputes that happen with the landlords, how they can be better neighbors in the community … all those kinds of things. And so we’re asking within our group … how can the university better partner with students on those issues.”