ResLife hosts first event in off-campus housing series

The Office of Residential Life and Learning, located at 20 Professors Row, is pictured on Sept. 15, 2018. Anika Agarwal / The Tufts Daily

The Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) hosted the first of its semester-long off-campus housing series in the Curtis Hall Multi-Purpose Room last week on Sept. 27. 

Assistant Director of Housing Operations Angelic Sosa hosted the first session, titled, “Where to Start, Understanding Budgeting & Financial Aid.” It featured presentations from Sosa, Associate Director of Financial Aid Amy Piantedosi and Assistant Director of Financial Aid Wenimo Poweigha. The series, set to run through November, aims to help students “navigate the off-campus housing process,” according to a flyer from ResLife. The first session was attended by 16 students.

The educational housing series was developed after Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate requested informational sessions in a meeting last spring, according to Associate Director of Housing Operations Matt Austin, who has supervised the initiative. The series is also a result of collaborations within the ResLife offices and with the offices of Community Relations and Financial Aid, according to Sosa.

Sosa began her presentation by polling the room on the attendees’ level of involvement in the search for off-campus housing thus far. Three people raised their hands to indicate they had started looking for off-campus housing, eight people raised their hands to indicate they knew peers who had already signed a lease for the next school year and nobody raised a hand to indicate having already signed a lease.

Mayu Kawahara said that she attended the first session of the series to learn more about the process of finding an off-campus house.

“[I’ve] contacted a lot of landlords … but I just want to see what they have to say about the whole process,” Kawahara, a sophomore, said. “At this point, it’s a lot of networking and knowing the right upperclassmen. And it’s mostly luck.”

Sosa noted the positive impact the new off-campus housing website will have on students just starting their search for different housing options or roommates.

“We just launched our off-campus housing website a few months ago and that’s something that I really want to boost,” Sosa said. “[Students] can definitely search for housing on there, they can meet potential roommates …  both from this school and neighboring schools are available.” 

Sosa also commented on the cost associated with living off-campus during the session. She explained that additional expenses, such as utilities, should be accounted for in overall price calculations.

“Have an idea of what your friends may be spending on their rent. If they’re already off campus, maybe take a look at what your current housing costs are,” Sosa said. “Some of the stuff you want to keep in mind is not only … rent, but also utilities — stuff like gas, electric [and] internet.”

Piantedosi explained that for a period of nine months, off-campus living costs, including tuition and fees, rent, utilities, food, books and personal expenses, could range from $67,700 to $75,800, while the Tufts cost of attendance on-campus is calculated to total $73,383 for 2019–20. 

Piantedosi reiterated that a student’s financial aid would not drop due to a change in living situation or meal plan and explained that the Tufts bill for students on financial aid may decrease due to a move off campus.

“The bill that you get from Tufts is certainly going to change, and it’s going to be much lower,” Piantedosi said. “You’re not going to have a housing charge on your student account, and most students will do a reduced meal plan … Your bill from Tufts is much lower but your financial aid stays the same.”

For students with financial aid who are interested in moving off campus, Piantedosi recommended the Student Account Calculator to provide a more comprehensive picture of what a Tufts bill may look like in a new living situation.

Sosa and Piantedosi also helped students brainstorm different ways to budget themselves when moving off campus, such as shopping at less expensive grocery stores or buying discounted transportation passes.

Sosa ultimately encouraged students to take time to fully investigate a living situation before signing a lease despite the sense of urgency landlords may create.

“Sometimes you run into a situation where the landlord says, ‘You need to sign the lease now … because I have 10 other people who are ready to sign,’” Sosa said. “You’re going to have to do your research. Understand that you don’t have to sign the lease right now.”

Sosa explained what could happen when students fail to read over a lease thoroughly.

“I met with a few students over the past few months who are unfortunately running into situations with their landlord that they weren’t 100 percent sure whether it was okay,” Sosa said. “Once you do a lease review, you see it was something that was noted in the lease or something that wasn’t noted in the lease.”

Connor Goggins, a member of the Tufts Housing League (THL), feels that the off-campus housing series is a step in the right direction, considering the current on-campus housing shortage.

“Finding junior and senior year housing is increasingly stressful, and there is no shortage of housing horror stories,” Goggins, a sophomore, said. “As an institution that forces the vast majority of upper-classmen off campus, Tufts has a responsibility to provide enough resources to students to make them as comfortable as possible.”

Goggins called for future changes, including moving the off-campus housing series earlier in the academic year if it becomes a permanent event and adding more resources to the new off-campus housing website.

Sosa hopes to continue providing information about the off-campus housing process through the new series, to engage younger students in these conversations and to emphasize the importance of taking time to explore all options.

“This is the first go at it, and so we hope to see it improve in the future, definitely do some stuff that’s geared toward some of our first-year students,” Sosa said. “We really want to help students understand — let’s take some time, let’s think about this process.”