Op-eds, Opinions

Soria ’19: The need for a student coalition for fair and ethical housing

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Sunday, September 16, 2018

While dorm space is available for students of all years, more and more juniors and seniors opt to live off-campus, as do a small number of sophomores. The reasons behind this decision may vary depending on the student. Many believe that Brown on-campus housing is quite expensive as it is — prohibitively so for students facing other financial difficulties. Others still prefer personal space and do not feel as comfortable sharing a dorm.

Like many other seniors who automatically receive approval from the Office of Residential Life for off-campus housing, I decided to move into an apartment this year. In doing so, I have had to deal with landlords. It is no secret that housing both on- and off-campus is overpriced. On the one hand, there is the University, which has disproportionate share of the housing market on campus or closest to campus. On the other hand, we have a handful of landlords who often have inherited several houses, and collectively own most of the real estate that is offered for rent in the area. The conditions for greedy landlords to thrive are ripe. Because of the inflated prices that the University offers, many landlords in the area take advantage of such conditions to raise rent. Even though off-campus housing is still relatively cheaper than on-campus housing, students who opt for the former still find themselves paying more than they have to. For example, Zillow, an online real estate database, indicates that my off-campus house’s rental price per room should cost as little as $200 per month. If this is any indication of what rental prices in the area should be, these figures are much cheaper than the rates that students actually pay, which can range from $600 to well over $900. Due to this, students are not only overcharged, but they can receive poor services and condition.

I need to clarify that not all landlords are exploitative. However, based on my own experience and what I have heard from my friends and acquaintances at Brown, it seems that many landlords take advantage of the fact that most students are renting an apartment for the first time, do not know the real estate prices in the area and are generally unfamiliar with the Rhode Island laws that are meant to protect tenants. Because of this, more and more students are charged overpriced rents and fees for apartments with conditions well below what we should expect, even if University on-campus housing cuts them a rawer deal.

Thus, I urge the Brown student community, Brown Student Agencies, ResLife and the University as a whole, to push for the creation of an undergraduate and graduate student coalition that can help protect the rights of students as tenants with their respective landlords. The creation of such an initiative would allow students to fight for fairer prices and better living conditions, and it would also provide students with a network where they can ask past tenants about landlords, prices and houses, among other things.

As Brown decides to accept more students than it can house and while ResLife deals with staffing problems, housing issues will become more and more pressing for the community. These challenges directly affect student finances, mental health and overall well-being. I do not believe that any Facebook group created to offer a short-term solution will be able to solve this current and ever-growing problem. This is why the creation of a student-led coalition for fair and honest housing could help those undergraduate and graduate students who have struggled with their own housing or are in urgent need of housing.

José Soria ’19 can be reached jose_soria@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.