Tufts launches new off-campus housing website

The Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) has launched a new off-campus housing website to serve as a one-stop-shop for students seeking off-campus housing in Medford, Somerville and Boston, according to an email sent to all students by ResLife.

The site is available to all undergraduate and graduate students in the Schools of Arts, Sciences & Engineering (AS&E), including School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts (SMFA) students. Anyone with a university username and password can log in to view apartment listings, find roommates, post messages on community forums, find resources and information about the leasing process and discover community events, according to the ResLife email.

According to Matt AustinAssociate Director of Housing Operations, the website is hosted by Off Campus Partners, a third-party company that also provides services to Boston-area schools including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University and Northeastern University.

A lack of centralized off-campus housing resources prompted the development of the new website, according to Austin.

“Our [old] website was outdated, and while it had decent content in terms of information, some stuff was hard to find — there was only a locked Google Spreadsheet of [off-campus housing] postings,” Austin said. “We needed to change the system.”

Austin said that the new website simplifies the apartment search process for students across Tufts’ undergraduate and graduate campuses. He described a number of specialty features available to students through the website.

“Depending on where a listing is, you can see how long it would take to get to campus on public transportation, walking or driving,” Austin said.

Students can also use the site to build roommate profiles, search community message boards and buy and sell furniture, according to Austin.

“We want this to be the one-stop-shop for everything off-campus housing,” Austin said.

Jonah O’Mara Schwartz, a member of student housing coalition Tufts Housing League (THL), expressed his support for the new off-campus housing website, but said that there is still more work to be done.

“It’s important that Tufts recognizes that [the website] is only a part of its housing solution,” Schwartz, a senior, said. “We don’t want to see Tufts using this as a way of moving more students off campus and pushing the responsibility of housing students onto the community.”

Schwartz also said that Tufts should be proactive in identifying fair housing.

“As Tufts brings people into the surrounding community, it should be the university’s responsibility to make sure that students are finding housing — safe, up-to-code housing with responsible landlords,” Schwartz said.

One challenge that the website faces is finding, and attracting, off-campus housing options that will appeal to students. As of Aug 21. the homepage prominently displayed a $3,171, two-bedroom studio apartment in The Kensington, an upscale Boston apartment complex.

Schwartz said that the university should be proactive in finding landlords, arguing that Tufts has a responsibility to feature a range of off-campus options.

“Tufts shouldn’t be reliant on the outside market to provide cheap housing because in reality, that’s not going to happen, but they do have a responsibility to make sure that there are diverse choices of more affordable housing [on the website],” Schwartz said.

However, he also recognized the logistical constraints of the website being in the early stages of its rollout and acknowledged that the website will likely list more affordable units as the year progresses.

Austin agreed that the expensive listings may be due to the timeline of the website’s rollout and its current lack of inventory. He said that ResLife is indeed taking outreach steps to contact area landlords.

“We’re reaching out — in conjunction with Community Relations — to the folks that we know have multiple properties in the Medford/Somerville area so that they’ll post [on the website], with the intention of increasing the inventory,” Austin said.

He expects that the average price of the apartments will decrease as more and more landlords list their units on the website.

“As we get more inventory into the system, we’re going to start seeing prices drop,” Austin said.

Linda Cohen, a real estate agent for Cambridge-based Century 21 Avon, told the Daily that she was hopeful that the website would make it easier for students to find off-campus housing. Cohen’s agency currently lists multiple rental options on the website, though she said that response so far has been slow.

“It’s just coming on at the end of the rental season,” Cohen said.

According to Schwartz, the website’s success will ultimately depend on what the university makes of it.

“I think Tufts should want people to use this tool, because Tufts should want students to be in affordable, healthy and safe housing… I [also] think Tufts has a responsibility to keep its students safe and healthy while they’re here,” Schwartz said. “So I do think this could be an interesting and really positive long-term tool, [but] it really depends on how Tufts utilizes it.”