SBU Off-Campus Renters

Ruchika Bhattacharya resided in one of Stony Brook University’s dorms but she felt cramped. The costs and the spaces weren’t up to her standards. “I was given a room for two with not enough [space] for neither my mental or physical self.” Bhattacharya is one of the hundreds of students at Stony Brook University who choose to live off campus.

This past September, two new residence halls opened up at Stony Brook University with the opportunity of bringing more students to live on campus. Now, and in the past, demand was so high to live on campus that some students had to live 30 minutes from Stony Brook’s campus at the Brookhaven Residential Village. Although more than 759 beds became available in the last academic year, over half of the university’s students are still choosing to live off campus.

Commuter students can be broken up into two categories — local students who live home with their families and students who are renting off campus either alone or with other students. We wanted to find out why so many have chosen the latter. Stony Brook University has 8,170 undergraduate commuter students and 8,441 graduate commuter students, according to an Oct. 2016 article in The Osprey. This represents 66 percent of Stony Brook’s 25,272 entire student population.

We engaged with the community of students who rent off campus while going to school at Stony Brook University. They are those who decided to move off campus after living on campus after the required first year for reasons like transportation, food options, overall cost and convenience. The distinction that we made for our experiment was that we would focus on individuals who didn’t live in their home and are exclusively renting.

In order to do so, we sent out a survey to this community and received 43 responses. 62.5 percent of them said that lower costs was the biggest reason that they chose to rent a room off-campus. The standard rate for a double room in one of Stony Brook’s dorm buildings is $4,041 for the 2016–2017 academic year, according to the Stony Brook University’s Campus Residences website. The standard rate for a single room is $4,659.

While rent may be cheaper off-campus, 62.5 percent said that getting on campus is the most difficult aspect for commuters, according to the same survey.

According to the survey, 35.3 percent off-campus renters, find their housing through the Stony Brook University Off Campus Housing website. The website lists available housing spaces and includes a series of search filters. It also allows for submission of rental listings but clarifies the rules: “Please note that Stony Brook University ONLY lists legal units, in accordance with local town rental codes. You MUST obtain a rental permit for your unit prior to submitting this form. Please have your permit ready as you will need to share it with our office”

Results from the survey that administered by Innovations in Community Engagement reporters.

Here are some of the SBU off-campus renters’ stories.
The college home of Mike Gusev, senior at Stony Brook University.

Mike Gusev, a senior student at Stony Brook University, said never really liked living on campus. He didn’t like the smells of the dorms or his messy suitemates’ living habits. He is one of the few that chose to move off campus because of the atmosphere, rather than the cost. Gusev pays around $520 a month, but this doesn’t include utilities. Compared to his Tabler Quad cooking building

Jordan Blue & his home off-campus.

Jordan Blue, a senior student, based his decision to move off campus to save money. “I’d like to say spending the extra cash to be around friends and be in a community is worth it, and if it was only slightly [less] expensive it would be, but sadly college is a business in the US now so the dorms are grossly overpriced for what you’re getting.” Blue pays $520 a month for an off-campus double room. This is approximately half of what he would have to pay for a similar room on campus.

Stony Brook University senior and off-campus renter, Nick Walsh.

Nick Walsh, a Senior student, primarily used public transportation to get to school. “Originally, I tried taking the LIRR, but it was just too much of a hassle compared to driving,” he said. “An hour ride, coupled with a 10–15 minute travel to/from the station, plus another few minutes of precaution, means that a minimum of two and a half hours of my day are gone.” Walsh also clarified that once a commuter arrives at the Stony Brook LIRR station or the South P Lot, it still takes around 30 minutes to get to class.

Khadija Ahmed, graduate student-dual degree of MBA and public affairs and her home off-campus.

Khadija Ahmed, a Graduate student, used to rent a room in Levittown for $600 a month. But she didn’t like the 45 minute drive to get to the campus, “it was a hassle because I work full-time at the Stony Brook Research and go to school full-time as well.” Ahmed has now relocated to a place around Stony Brook, but pays around $750 a month. “[B]ut it is definitely worth it in order to save on gas expense,” she said.

What some local landlords have to say…
Joleen Barker, a landlord in the area who rents to Stony Brook University students, and her property.

Joleen Barker, a landlord and technical engineer from St. James, owns a three bedroom apartment. She rents the bedrooms for around $800 a month with utilities included. Additionally, there is a $30 a month charge of the use of the washer and dryer. “I usually prefer to rent to families more than college students because they stay on a long term basis versus college students are always constantly moving and busy. I don’t make any profit and rent based on the expenses of the mortgage of the house. Generally I charge college students the same price as I would to families.”

Matthew Sarrel, a landlord who rents a home in Port Jefferson.

Matthew Sarrel, a landlord and Physical Therapist from Merrick, owns a five bedroom home. He rents a Port Jefferson home for around $2,900 a month without utilities included. “Utilities are an extra of $350–450 a month for the whole house, depending on the renters, ideally I look for someone who would sign for a year lease, pay the rent in a timely manner and most importantly someone who would take care of my house.”


Our Engagement Strategy

Who are you trying to distribute this story to, why and how?

We want to distribute this story to as many Stony Brook University students as possible. We believe it is important for students who already live off campus, are considering moving off campus, or maybe never even have considered the option, to hear the stories of those who do. As college students ourselves, we understand many of the struggles students go through, whether that be finances, living situations, or travel accommodations. It is important to understand and consider all of the options when it comes being a college student.

Describe them and give context and details. Build segments. For each:

The off-campus renters community are the students who have decided to go away to college in terms of moving away from their childhood home. Sometimes the lines of our community can be blurred, because there are many students who live off campus, but we wanted to focus on the ones who don’t live with their families. These are students who took the chance to live on their own, or with other college students. Since this community must commute to campus, we found that a lot of them convene at the South P Lot. This lot is filled with commuters who park their cars and get bused to campus, talking to one another as they wait for their bus to arrive. We also found many in the commuter lounge in both the library and Student Activities Center. Another place that acted as a hub for our community were Commuter Students Association meetings. However, we found that there wasn’t one specific place to find specifically off-campus renters since they overlap with many different communities, the more general one being commuters.

They consume information from Commuter Student Association (CSA) weekly email blasts, as well as their Facebook page. There was an off campus housing Facebook page, but it now seems to have lost it’s traction. There are also emails sent out about campus happenings, every now and then to give information, but those are few and far between. Many students also said they take a look at walls throughout campus, which often have rental opportunities posted on flyers.

We will reach our community by asking the CSA to include a link to our story in their email blast, posting the link to applicable Facebook pages including “class” pages, as well as Instagram. On Instagram, we intend on following as many student as possible and consistently posting. We will also continue to distribute the survey. On all of these forms of distribution, we will include a link to our survey, story, and/or Instagram page to encourage people to continue to be a part of this project.

Samples of our means of distribution

We added to our Instagram page a description to encourage people to participate: Sharing the stories of those who rent off campus, direct message us or send us an email at sbuhousing@gmail.com to be featured!

In addition, we created flyers to post on and around campus, especially where many off-campus renters live:

We made the decision our survey by adding this description to the top to bring attention to our Instagram page: “Check out our Instagram @sburenters and submit your renting experiences through Direct message, or email us at sbuhousing@gmail.com

We also mocked up a Facebook post that we can continue to post: Hello, we are a group of journalists working on an engagement project with the community of sbu students who rent off campus. We have started an instagram page in the Humans of New York format to share stories of students around you who live off campus. Check it out or send us a message with you story to be featured!

As well as this mock up email asking CSA to send spread awareness about our community engagement project: commuter_services@stonybrook.edu:

To whom this may concern,

My name is ______ and I am a journalist here at Stony Brook University. My fellow classmates and I are working on a semester long project about the community of students who rent off campus. We are trying to find issues that impact them and stories that are important to this group of people. We have started an Instagram page in the, “Humans of New York” style to share stories of individuals who we have come in contact with during this project which you can find at: https://www.instagram.com/sburenters/ We are wondering if you would be able to share our findings as well as our survey to your contacts and encourage them to participate and send us submissions. Thank you.

Sincerely,

__________

If you could continue working on this project for 1 semester, what would you do?

We would love to continuously talk to off-campus renters and culminate anecdotes of people’s’ experiences. The more we talk to our community, the better equipped we will be to tell their story, and potentially write other stories that could help answer their questions. We also want to add more people to our Instagram page. The more posts, the more legitimate our project looks, which will encourage more and more people to share their stories. We also would look to find more authoritative sources that can better address the issues that our community has.

Build a timeline for the next 5 months on exactly what you will do.

Continue finding sources for our Instagram page — goal 2 interviews each week.

Build a following on social media platforms so that we can continue to source

Find more effective ways to connect with our community and get people to participate

Build a relationship with Off-Campus housing — seeing what kind of data they want to know and trying to gather it.

Continue research on Landlords


Final Thoughts…

As a group, we agreed that the improvements that could be made in terms of how we approached this story, were having more conversations with people in this community and immersing ourselves into their lives by letting go of preconceived ideas we had about them. Our Instagram page was another aspect of our project we agreed needed improvement in terms of its reach. To remedy this we worked on reporting more, listening more and, again, having more conversations with the people in our community. In terms of the Instagram page, it is difficult to build a following in a short amount of time, but we are trying to remedy that by sharing a lot more on social media, connecting all our surveys and reporting to our Instagram page, encouraging our characters to share our page and making posters to expand our reach.