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Johnson '14: Making off-campus living as difficult as possible

At many colleges, junior year is the time when students can finally take the plunge and sign their very first lease for their very first apartment. It's a pivotal moment in our lives — out of the house, out of the dorm and into the almost-real world.

But here at Brown, juniors are not always allowed to live off campus. Instead, they must apply for permission. We are told where we can and cannot live at the age of 20 or 21.

In the interest of full disclosure, I may have a personal stake in seeing this policy changed — a three-bedroom on Thayer Street. But it is my belief that the University's off-campus policy makes the already difficult process of finding an apartment all the more arduous.

For starters, there is the lack of publicized information about the odds of receiving off-campus permission. Rising sophomores receive an email over the summer informing them that they may "apply for off-campus permission."

They are warned in bold, underlined and enlarged font to "not sign a lease until you receive written approval via email of your permission." But they are never told how likely it is that they will be granted permission. There is no information published about the previous year's numbers. It is, quite simply, a mystery.

Then there is the timing. Sophomores hoping to live off campus for their junior year do not receive permission until Nov. 3, at the earliest.

Any veteran of the battlefield of apartment hunting on College Hill knows that by Nov. 3, you are lucky to find a cardboard box on Brook Street to rent, let alone a nice wooden crate on Thayer. Most leases are signed in September and early October for the following academic year, which leaves almost nothing after the November notification date.

And don't expect any help from the landlords of the East Side. Many of them seem to be related, which means a few powerful landlord families — the 1 percent, if you will — control a significant portion of the apartments near campus. A handful of them are nice. But most bring to mind the mafia men who sit outside of Cosa Nostra, or whatever it is called now.

Between the oppressive timing of ResLife's policy and the arm-breaking, cigar-smoking Patriarca landlords, rising juniors are left in a tough position. Essentially, the majority of juniors are forced to live on campus.

This whole situation wouldn't sting nearly as much if the University offered us nice, cheap housing. As a resident of Chapin who pays $6,522 per year in housing, and who hardly lives in luxury — thank you Theta Delta Chi — I was stunned to learn that my contribution to a beautiful, newly renovated apartment on Thayer Street would only be $700 per month. There were hardwood floors, nice bathrooms and no linebackers puking in the hall. And if you multiply the $700 times the nine months of the academic year, the result is $200 less than the University's fee.

Except I forgot to include one other ridiculous detail of ResLife's off-campus housing policy: the $616 non-resident fee that everyone who lives off campus is forced to pay. That's correct — students are forced to pay the housing office even when not living on campus.

The University could do any number of things to remedy this awful policy. For one, they could just allow juniors to live off campus. This would bypass the entire lottery system for off-campus permission. Perhaps letting more people off campus would allow the University to renovate a dorm every once in a while.

Or ResLife could simply move up the dates of the process to make it a little fairer for juniors in the housing market. If the application period were in the summer, for instance, sophomores could sign leases for their junior year upon returning to campus. Rising seniors would still be able to sign whenever they wanted, because they are guaranteed off-campus permission.

Either way, the system as it stands now is not acceptable. Between the secretive oligarchy of ResLife and the Scarface-esque landlords, something has got to change.

Garret Johnson '14 is a biochemistry and molecular biology concentrator from Boxford, Mass., who may be in danger of mob retaliation for having written this column.


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