Off-campus housing creates unnecessary stress on students
Every fall semester, the streets of Newark seem to be buzzing with one word: housing. From the minute students return to campus after summer vacation, they are focused on signing leases for the following school year.
Blue Hen Ambassadors (BHAs) often tell prospective students and family members that the number of students who move off campus every year is about 25 percent.
A popular choice for students at the university are the University Courtyards, especially among sophomores. Located on East Campus just east of South Chapel Street, the Courtyards are an a compound of apartment buildings managed by real estate company RISE. They offer one bedroom, two bedroom and four bedroom options. All apartments come furnished and are located close to Main Street. Students get access to study rooms, a pool, a fitness center and their utilities are included in their rent, but all of this comes at a cost.
A four bedroom apartment in the Courtyards can cost up to $885 per person per month, a price steep price many students are unwilling to pay. A lease for the Courtyards spanning the fall and spring semester amounts to a whopping $10,620 per tenant.
“The location’s pretty good,” said Kylie Wright, a sophomore living in the University Courtyards. “It’s close to Main Street, but I find myself exhausted walking to class. I don’t like walking home at night from the library to the Courtyards. I’d say the distance is the worst thing.”
According to Wright, she chose to live in the Courtyards because of all the perks: her own bedroom and a fully furnished apartment. But the Courtyard apartments also tend to be worn and outdated.
“A lot of things are broken,” Wright said. “In one of my roommates’ rooms, her closet door is broken, her chair is broken and her light flickers. She put in a request at the beginning of the school year and no one has come to fix it yet. Maintenance has yet to come for that, and it’s been like a month and a half.”
Houses tend to look outdated and rundown, but they are also cheaper and can sometimes hold a larger number of people than apartments. Cheaper housing options can be found on Benny Street over on East Campus and on New London Road and Prospect Street near North Campus.
For Wright, the beginning of the school year brought anxiety surrounding signing a lease for a house in a good location.
“I was going to get a lease passed down to me,” Wright said. “You have to do that like the first week of school if you want a good location. Housing has to be done so early. Someone stole our house, so we didn’t get that location.”
Wright remains unsure of her plans for housing for the 2018-19 school year, although she knows she wants to live in a house.
Brittany Blake, a senior living in an off-campus house, noted that the time period to sign leases comes very early on in the school year. Like Wright had been hoping for, Blake’s house was passed down by women in her sorority, making it easier to physically find a location. But this did little to ease her anxieties.
“We started thinking about where we wanted to live in like the first week of school,” Blake said. “I didn’t really know her [one of Blake’s roommates] well enough. I didn’t know if I wanted to live with her for sure.”
Despite original apprehensions, Blake is satisfied with her living situation. While her house is on the older side, it is spacious and, most importantly, affordable.
“We have a dishwasher that I didn’t know how to use, that’s how old it is,” Blake said. “We figured it out, obviously, but having the space that we have is so nice. It’s two floors, four bedrooms. I have my own bathroom with my bedroom.”
Blake pays her rent quarterly, amounting to $6,900 every three months from each of the four students living in the house. Per month, this amounts to $575, more than $300 less than the University Courtyards’ rate.
Many of the off campus apartments are offered through two popular development groups: Lang Development Group and Tsionas Management. Both companies boast updated apartments at convenient locations near Main Street and campus.
Some popular Tsionas apartment buildings include Astra Plaza above Santa Fe, Continental Court on South Chapel Street, and the 58 East Main Street Apartments above Honeygrow and Qdoba. Nine total apartment buildings are advertised on their website.
Compared with Tsionas’ nine advertised buildings, Lang Development Group advertises 20 apartment buildings on their website.
According to Lauren Graupman, a sophomore living in Astra Plaza above Santa Fe, she and her roommates acquired the last apartment offered by Tsionas for the 2017-18 school year.
“I signed in late October of last year,” Graupman said. “Late October is really late to sign a lease. It was the only unit left and the only apartment I could still find on campus.”
Like many other students, Graupman was drawn to living off campus because of the freedom and the inexpensiveness. Graupman acknowledges that the $725 she pays per month with utilities is cheaper than living on campus, but it is still more than she would like to be paying.
“My rent next year is going to be $625 without utilities,” Graupman said. “The reason we picked Astra Plaza and are willing to pay this much is because we signed our lease late.”
For the 2018-19 school year, Graupman has signed a lease with Lang Development Group. Having signed leases with both Lang and Tsionas, Graupman quickly noticed several differences between the two.
“The one difference I have seen [between Lang and Tsionas] was that Lang was more demanding in the application process,” Graupman said. “We all had to be there for signing, the person getting taken off the lease had to be there, and I had to be there to be put on the lease, so they were really strict about it. Tsionas just asked to bring the lease to them signed, and it [the co-signer form] didn’t have to be notarized, but Lang’s did.”
Lang Development Group is extremely popular among university students. New buildings surface every few years around campus in prime locations, leading increasing numbers of students students to camp outside Lang’s office hoping for the opportunity to grab a coveted lease.
“Camping isn’t that bad. We take shifts to go to class, so it’s really not terrible,” Carly Conway, said. Conway is a freshman, and hopes to secure a lease to the North College apartments.
“I’m doing it more for the story, for the fact that I camped out for two days,” Lexie Serafin, Conway’s prospective roommate, said.
The line at Lang’s office is indicative of their control over the housing market. Students are willing to camp out because Lang has a reputation for having updated apartments in good locations.
According to Kaelyn Zusi, a junior living at Pomeroy Station above Ski Bum, her experience with Lang has not been positive. She expressed that her complaints include bug infestations, limited parking and low quality of customer service.
“They’re really unaccommodating to college students,” Zusi said. “When we had to resign our lease, we all had different schedules. One of my classes was cancelled, but if it wasn’t for that, I would have had to skip a class [to sign the lease].”
Like many students who choose to live with Lang, Zusi chose her building based on its close proximity to work, classes and Main Street.
“I like my building more for the location,” Zusi said. “It’s on the end of Main Street and I work in Ski Bum, so it’s right downstairs.”
Zusi is paying $625 per month excluding utilities at Pomeroy Station. This is an increase from the $600 per month she paid last year in the HollyWoods, but she doesn’t consider the extra $25 per month to be too costly.
“I don’t think it’s that expensive,” Zusi said. “Lang actually does a good job of making sure all the properties that they have are nice properties. I don’t think a lot of the properties they have are known to be outdated. All of their places are good. They keep them up to date and in really good locations. But obviously they have the problem of not building on time.”
For the past two years, Lang has promised students the unique possibility to move into brand new, state of the art apartment buildings close to Main Street. And for the past two years, Lang has not honored their promise, elongating the construction time and relocating the students to hotels. Students who signed a lease to The Lofts on Center Street lived in either the Homewood Suites or the Embassy Suites for about a month from August 28 until October 6.
Many students choose to make the leap to off campus housing as early as their sophomore year, as the prices for off campus apartments and houses are typically less than on campus housing through the university. The cost of living on campus can vary from about $7,000 to $10,000 depending upon the amenities and space for the whole school year.
Other locations, such as Pomeroy Station or an off-campus house tend to either be around the same cost as an on campus twin room or less, although they are frequently unfurnished. However, money can be saved by forgoing a Meal Plan and instead deciding to cook the majority of meals. Optional Meal Plans can cost as much as $2,735 for 12 weeks and $580 in points, but much of this can be saved by shopping at the local grocery stores.
Students scramble to find not only apartments, but roommates to fill those apartments. Finding a freshman year roommate may have seemed daunting enough for some, but the real test comes when choosing who to share your whole living space with, not just a tiny dorm room.
But once students move in, the location and cost of off-campus living trumps all other inconveniences students face.
“It’s all about location,” Wright said.