Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Off-Campus Housing at Colgate

Dean McLoughlin met with Hamilton landlords to discuss off-campus housing and foster a relationship between the school and town. Housing will see mild changes in the coming academic year. 

As housing selection season approaches, the variety of issues surrounding Colgate’s off-campus housing are again at the forefront. Though there has been some speculation this year about the future of off-campus housing due to the construction of new residence halls, Vice President and Dean of the College Paul McLoughlin and Director of Residential Life Stacey Millard explained that the number of students allowed to live off campus will not undergo any major changes in the next several years at least.

Beginning next year, the number of students allowed to live off campus will be calculated annually based on a variety of factors including the number of students abroad, retention rate, number of transfer students and size of the first-year class. However, neither McLoughlin nor Millard anticipate the number dropping below 200 seniors in the next several years, indicating no major changes to the size of the program.

“People get nervous when they hear that [we’ll start using an adaptive number approach] because we’re adding 200 new beds to our ecosystem, and the direct translation that sometimes people make is that we’re reducing the off-campus count by 200. That is not in our plan. We want seniors to have the opportunity to live off-campus,” Millard said.

Over the past decade, the number of students allowed to live off-campus through the lottery system has remained at about 250 seniors per year, a number established by Colgate’s 15th President Rebecca Chopp.

Millard explained that people often ask her why more students aren’t approved when Hamilton has a larger capacity for students than is utilized. She explained that this number is based on the necessity to fill Colgate housing. The loss of approximately 250 students each year can be absorbed by the system, but generally not more than that.

However, while off-campus numbers won’t change dramatically, students can anticipate a few other changes to the housing system. Starting next year, students will be required to have a minimum GPA of 2.8 in order to live off-campus, based on the requirement for students to study abroad. Colgate will also administer a more thorough conduct review before allowing students to enter the lottery system.

McLoughlin feels that this is an important addition to the screening process.

“My obligation as dean is to deliver the strongest students to [the community], and students who have the skills and inclination to be good neighbors,” he said.

Colgate has faced some challenges with students off-campus this year. A letter was sent to McLoughlin on January 22 regarding behavior of Colgate students in the Village of Hamilton.

“Recently the Village Board of Trustees has become aware of, and concerned with disruptive, dangerous and unlawful activities occurring at some boarding houses within the Village of Hamilton,” the letter opened.

McLoughlin has begun to meet with the landlords to discuss ways to establish a relationship. One of the goals is to make Colgate students more accountable for disciplinary issues off campus through better communication between the police, the dean’s office and the landlords.

At the first meeting between landlords and the Colgate administration on February 19, many landlords discussed issues they’ve had with tenants, particularly centered around property damage and partying. Several landlords in attendance expressed the desire to be able to better address these issues, which McLoughlin encouraged them to report to his office of Student Affairs.

“It’s a pretty helpless moment when you pull up to the house [you own] and see 100 kids,” one landlord explained.

When speaking about property damage during the meeting, multiple landlords expressed that many Colgate students don’t consider the person who owns the property and how he/she will be affected.

Hamilton landlord Mike Clare, who owns the apartment above Oliveri’s, explained that he’s had issues in the past with beer leaking through the floorboards and causing multiple thousands of dollars in damage over the years.

He described his experience as a landlord renting to Colgate students for the past six years as difficult at times.

“Well, it has been more negative than positive. We have had good experiences with renting to girls and not so good with the boys. I believe the boys we had have been members of fraternities and they just had many parties and a lot of damage,” Clare said.

As other landlords expressed, he described an issue with students understanding the true consequences of their actions.

 “I think [students] need to know that a landlord is operating a business and they have a substantial investment in their properties. So when they sustain damage that in our case we have not been able to be fully reimbursed [for], it is taking money out of someone’s pocket. I don’t think they realize what the consequences of their actions are,” Clare said.

However, experiences have been mixed. Rich Carpenter has been renting 5 West Kendrick, the DU Annex, for 41 years. He feels that his experience as a landlord to Colgate students has been good overall.

“Definitely more positive than negative. Over the years we have connected with hundreds of terrific students and families.  Some are still coming back to rent the house for their 10th and 15th reunions. The payoff for us in offering a quality home is the opportunity to help students learn about the privileges and responsibilities of independent living that likely will be their next step in life,” Carpenter said.

In addition to adjustments in the screening process and addressing behavioral issues, McLoughlin would also like to make off-campus housing a more equitable process, particularly by addressing the issue of early lease signing. Though off-campus lottery decisions aren’t released until January of students’ junior years, many students sign leases much earlier, without approval. These students either back out of the lease, lose the deposit money, or pay for both on-campus and off-campus housing simultaneously, if they can afford to do so.

As a result, McLoughlin sees this partly as a privilege issue, in that students who can afford to take on these costs take off-campus housing away from those who cannot and have waited to be selected by the lottery.

Senior Amelia Poole, who lives off-campus, also feels that early lease signing is one of the major issues with the process. 

“I don’t think that the possibility of living in off-campus housing should be eliminated, but I do think that the process requires some changes. The fact that students feel compelled to sign leases for senior year as sophomores makes very little sense. So much can change in the space between, and I think that this timeline absolutely contributes to all of the last-minute switches. Though the early lease-signing part of the process doesn’t necessarily involve Colgate, it’s something that (somehow) could be changed for the better,” Poole said. 

During the first meeting with landlords, McLoughlin asked that they wait to sign leases, and raised the option of providing approved students with a letter of approval in January, so that landlords could ask to see it as verification. Overall, many landlords in attendance felt this wasn’t realistic because the majority of leases they sign are with unapproved sophomore students. In order for it to work, all of the landlords would have to agree not to do so.

Poole feels that her experience living in off-campus housing has varied, but overall has been positive. 

“Like anything, there have been pros and cons to living in off-campus housing. It has definitely made my experience as a senior very distinct from the experiences of my previous three years. I think that there’s a feeling of greater responsibility that comes with living as a part of the community rather than within an isolated part of town, and I have personally enjoyed this. I am also grateful that I’ve had my first experiences with figuring out utilities, landlord relationships, etc. in a small college town, because there’s an understanding that this process is fairly new for most tenants,” she said. 

Senior Mack Neary has also enjoyed off-campus living. 

“[Off-campus housing has been a] completely positive experience. Being able to live in a space that isn’t controlled by the school has been liberating. Doing little things like paying for wifi and utilities while annoying has been good in terms of learning what life is going to be like outside of Colgate,” he said. 

While the off-campus housing system will remain for the most part unchanged in the coming years, there are several updates coming to on-campus housing.

The new dorms opening next academic year will be part of the Brown and Colgrove commons and house about 100 first-year and sophomore students. Part of the building’s goal is to provide enough housing options so that sophomores, who are still on meal plans, can be moved out of the townhouses, and also to provide more single-room options for upperclassmen. The new living space will also provide more flexibility for housing updates in the future. Additionally, all of the apartments will be renovated this summer. The next major proposed project is a renovation of the Broad Street Houses, and Dean McLoughlin raised the possibility of a dining hall for upperclassmen there.

Another change to housing will be the availability of a block housing system this spring. This is where students can choose who they want to live with rather than where, creating a lottery system that prioritizes keeping groups together. This will also allow larger groups of students to request living close together.

Contact Sarah Anderson at [email protected].