Housing is tenuous

Kat Ogletree ’07 is a little angry. Last Wednesday, the Pierson student, who planned to call her apartment at 210 Park St. home until she graduates, received notice that her plans were going to be cut short.

In an attempt to stem a potential housing shortage in the coming academic year, the Yale College Dean’s Office has agreed to rent the Harrison Court apartments at 210 Park from University Properties as annex space for undergraduates. All tenants, including Yale students like Ogletree who use 210 Park as off-campus housing, will be denied renewal of their leases for next year.

“I went through this housing scramble last year,” Ogletree said. “It’s very frustrating to have to deal with it again when I was expecting to stay put.”

The annual “scramble” is something that afflicts nearly all Yale College students, though for most it usually means no more than surviving nail-biting room draws for suites in the residential colleges. Ogletree is one of the students — about 12 percent of all undergraduates — who choose to scramble instead for rooms in apartments and houses beyond the stone bounds of Davenport, Branford, Morse, and their ilk. For many students, the commotion at 210 Park is just another of the ups and downs of choosing to live off campus at Yale.

Ogletree and other students living off campus are often subject to a system nearly as complicated as the one governing on-campus housing. Josh Stern ’06, who has lived off campus since his junior year, said the “dirty secret” of off-campus housing is that most of it is owned by Yale.

In fact, University Properties owns about 500 apartments and houses around campus, University Properties Manager Kelly King said. The properties are contracted out to two companies — Pro Management Services and Elm Campus Partners — which interact with Yale-affiliated renters. Not all off-campus housing is owned by University Properties, but their holdings include some of the most popular buildings for students, such as Harrison Court, Orleton Court and the Townsend.

Students looking to live off campus fill out applications for apartments year round, King said, and are placed on various waiting lists. Competition for rooms is highly variable depending on the location of the property, he said. Students who are prepared often put themselves on waiting lists for buildings like the Taft and the Oxford as early as November.

Yale College Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske said he has seen student preference for off-campus housing go through several cycles in his time at Yale. For many years, approximately 500 students lived off campus per year, Meeske said, but this number increased radically about 15 years ago. Off-campus occupancy reached a peak of 910 students in 1995, and then began to fall back down. Since 2003, at least 30 fewer students have chosen to live off campus every year.

Meeske attributed the recent drop in students choosing to live off campus to New Haven’s strengthening real estate market.

“Housing prices are pretty high,” he said. “It’s less desirable that way. It’s more expensive to live off campus.”

The economics of on- versus off-campus living are variable and highly subject to interpretation. Despite Meeske’s assertion that it can be more expensive to live off campus, many students who do so say a major motivator is a desire to save money. For most students, these savings do not come from rent. An on-campus room costs about $580 a month, a rate comparable to or less than most rents for rooms in nearby apartments. Real savings, said students, come on food. A meal plan, which is required for all students living on campus, costs $4,340 a year, and many Yalies find it cheaper, more convenient and healthier to cook for themselves.

Ogletree said that when she lived on campus she rarely got the full value of her meal plan, since she would barely ever eat the breakfast she was forced to pay for.

“The meal plan is what kills you,” she said. “I was always wasting a lot of money.”

But others said that even with the decrease in food costs, living off campus is not more economical. Stern said he was saving money his junior year, but after moving to a more expensive apartment this year he said he is probably breaking even. Amelia Page ’06, who lives in an apartment on Howe Street, said she enjoys freedom from dining hall hours that often conflicted with her schedule, but probably does not save any money by living in an apartment.

In some cases, Meeske’s contention that living off campus can become unattractively expensive is well-founded. Nate Puksta ’07, Ogletree’s roommate at 210 Park, said that even though his rent is one of the lowest in the area, living off campus is costing him much more than living on.

“Everyone says they do [save money],” he said. “I do not. My parents are shelling out so much money for me to live off campus.”

Puksta said the costs of living off campus are often unexpected. Bills for cable, electricity, and Internet access add up quickly, he said, and often to a higher number than what he expected. In addition, Puksta said, living off campus carries a startup cost students forego by living in the colleges. Furnishing an entire apartment entails a lot more investment than furnishing an on-campus suite, he said.

But the advantages of living off campus often have little to do with money, some students said. Puksta said his rent will likely go up next year — the $550-per-month 210 Park is no longer an option, so the lowest rent he can find will be $700 — but he hopes to continue to live off campus. For Puksta, living off campus provides a degree of autonomy that he cannot find living in the colleges.

“I like living off campus because I’m a really independent person,” he said. “I like to do my own thing, I like to have my own space and I like to make my own food.”

Puksta also said the separation between home and school one can find living off campus can give students peace of mind, a point echoed by Page.

“It’s more relaxing because it feels like you’re at school more like part-time,” Page said. “When you’re at home, it’s just very separate from being at Yale.”

But off-campus living can also yield difficulties that students may not face in their residential colleges.

When she was annexed from Saybrook last year, April Joyner ’07 was placed in a studio apartment in Harrison Court. While Joyner said she has enjoyed the greater freedom and space of living in an apartment, her involuntary off-campus experience has sometimes been trying. Earlier this year, for example, a burst pipe in the apartment above Joyner’s caused a leak in her cabinets that left her unable to store food. If students are not prepared to take a firm hand in the maintenance of their living spaces, she said, they should not live off campus.

“Overall, it’s been a great experience, but lately little things like repairs have just been bugging me,” Joyner said. “Having an apartment to myself ended up being a bit much for me because I have had to juggle a lot of things this year.”

Joyner said she plans to move back on campus for her senior year.

Stern said that even while living in Yale-owned off-campus housing, students may feel as though they are living in “Yale’s clutches.” At the end of last year, Stern and his roommates were evicted by Elm Campus Partners from their house on Crown Street and shuffled to a Chapel Street apartment that carried double the rent.

Not all students living off campus have had such dramatic interactions with University Properties and their affiliated companies. Though Puksta said he is annoyed by late notification about 210 Park, he said Elm Campus Partners, which oversees the building, has been generally helpful and responsive about helping him find a new apartment for next year.

Students said their on-campus housing options also influence their decision to move off campus. The number of students living off campus varies by residential college, Meeske said. This year, Morse has the most students living off campus (75), and Saybrook has the fewest (38). In general, unrenovated colleges like Calhoun and Jonathan Edwards have more students living off campus, though Meeske said these numbers vary from year to year.

Meeske said he does not have an explanation for why more students in some colleges choose to live off campus than in others.

“I’ve been working on this one for 30 years, and I haven’t quite figured it out,” he said. “In some cases, it becomes the thing to do or the thing not to do. If in one college a group of students decided to go off campus, their friends might decide to live off campus, too. It becomes a sort of group mentality thing.”

But Page said the quality of the senior housing available to her was a major factor in her decision to move off campus.

“I’m in Calhoun and it’s unrenovated, and it’s not the nicest college,” she said. “I didn’t think the senior housing was as nice as in other colleges.”

Calhoun College Dean Stephen Lassonde said the numbers of singles in each college can also be an important factor in how many students live off campus. In general, Lassonde said, the longer they are at Yale, the more students want personal space. Colleges such as Calhoun, which has only 22 stand-alone singles, cannot offer the same kind of privacy as a college like Branford, which has around 40.

Many students said they like to live off campus because it feels more like the real world. Puksta and Ogletree said they will work to stay off campus next year because they want to continue the independent lifestyle they have developed this year. The roommates, said Puksta, cook dinner together every night, and have learned a lot about organization and time management.

Living in the “real world” of off-campus housing may entail bills, leaks and strained dealings with rental companies or realtors, Stern said, but he thinks it leaves students better prepared to deal with life after graduation.

“It’s practice in building a life for yourself,” he said.

The Taft apartment building is a popular location for student’s who live on campus. It is owned by University Properties.
Leland Milstein
The Taft apartment building is a popular location for student’s who live on campus. It is owned by University Properties.

Comments