By Dave Brown
Not such a long time ago I lived on campus as a senior in Seward 303 — I graduated in 2010. It was an excellent living arrangement, but I was lucky with my choice of roommates and picked one that had a good lottery number. While I was at Union I worked hard to promote the virtues of Schenectady and so I am happy to see there is a strong interest in living in the city. As Nathaniel Raynor said when explaining why he is working so hard to live off campus, “What better way to be part of Schenectady than living outside of our iron fences, branching out and dealing with real world situations?”
However, the attitude of entitlement that is behind his recent petition is not something I find well-matched to the real world since it attempts to address a problem created solely through ill-advised choices and ignores the broader context of housing at Union for a short-term benefit. Housing policy may need to be examined, but it should be examined with an eye toward the long-term benefits.
To have signed a lease and paid money before being released from campus housing was a mistake, and I do not think that apartment availability is so incredibly tight surrounding the campus that it requires renting a year ahead of time. Based on my experience, renting so far ahead is extremely atypical. My suspicion is supported by a quick look at the Daily Gazette’s apartments for rent classified ads, where several apartments are available right now within a mile of campus (and, by the looks of it, Mr. Raynor could find a much cheaper place, too).
It is an expensive lesson for those involved — which, by the sound of it, is a good portion of the senior class — and a good reminder for the rest of us to be extremely deliberate in our financial arrangements. I feel that there must be some level of mob mentality that has convinced so many students that they have to rent a house so far in the future and that release is a mere formality.
The good news is that the law tends to allow for mistakes and, in real estate, it is particularly generous. I encourage all those who have paid money to landlords and are not released to seek out a lawyer. I think you will find that, if you back out of the lease, the landlord is responsible for actively seeking a new tenant. With such a long timeframe before your scheduled move-in date, most of your money can be clawed back. The administration should not release students merely because they have signed a lease, since that will create a moral hazard for the future classes, who will think they just have to sign an early lease to guarantee their own releases.
It is the benefits for the future that should drive any discussion on a change in housing policy. The housing arrangements available today are the product of relatively recent history, and I believe these choices have been for the current classes’ benefits. The purchase of the bulk of the apartments on Seward was undertaken in the late 1990s and the Ramada Inn Hotel, now College Park Hall, in the early 2000s. Their conversions were, in my opinion, absolutely critical to the present good condition of the campus and the surrounding area. Schenectady has been on a steady upswing in terms of physical condition and, lagging only slightly, reputation. The downtown area, with shops, restaurants and bars, is completely different from the downtown of the late ’90s.
The college made a decision to invest in housing property near the campus, which surely plays into the state of Schenectady, just as it plays into the current policy requiring housing to actually be used. I think this is a fair tradeoff.
If there is anything to examine, it is in the allocation of housing; perhaps there should be a difference in cost between the good and bad on-campus housing. Perhaps the lottery itself should be substituted with a different method; then, there could be more than a bad lottery number to get a student stuck in College Park Hall.
Though, for those that complain about College Park Hall being too far from campus, I would say it’s time to invest in walking shoes. Since it is only an extra quarter of a mile from the main campus, you will be hard pressed to find students from other colleges that would give you any sympathy.