Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships aims to smooth out bumps for students living off campus
When a scammer appeared at Rhea Pillai’s apartment last semester convincing her to change her electricity company, she was confused to say the least.
“It’s hard when you don’t have an RA or some sort of immediate resource to turn to,” said Pillai, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
Many students who live in off-campus housing agree that finding a place to live, staying safe and avoiding scams is difficult when you are on your own.
And Pillai, who has never lived on her own before, said she was clueless when it came to figuring out when and where to look for an apartment.
“Do I just walk up to a random home and knock on the door asking if they’re moving out?” Pillai said. “I’ve never been in a situation in which I didn’t have an assisted medium to guide me.”
To help alleviate the burdens of off-campus residents like Pillai, the Rutgers Office of Student Affairs launched a new resource called Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships.
The department acts as a one-stop shop for all the hacks that off-campus students need to survive, from providing information on landlords and rent control to giving tips on safety and security.
Located on their website, the Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships provides a simple way to search and create rental listings and look for roommates through an online rental listing directory. The University partnered with Places4Students.com, a company that offers Off-Campus Housing solutions for students, faculty and staff.
“The department is a great resource for learning how to budget appropriately, where to get a lease reviewed before signing it and how to get access to an attorney,” said Kerri Willson, director of the Off-Campus Living and Community Partnership.
The office, which opened July 1, saw a number of students walk in who are struggling with property owners not fulfilling legal obligations or who are unable to find roommates.
The department began three years ago when a task force at Rutgers was assigned to study the quality of life of off-campus students. A committee within the task force examined Big Ten schools and their support systems in place for off-campus students.
Last summer, Willson and Director of Student Legal Service Don Heilman examined Ohio State University’s off-campus support system — Neighborhood Services. The two went to Ohio State University and met with representatives to get a better understanding of their system.
“(Neighborhood Services) is really a model program for providing support and education for students living in the off-campus community, particularly working with the city, the students and the property owners,” Willson said.
Similar to Ohio State’s Neighborhood Services, Rutgers’ off-campus support system does more than act as a resource for students. It also aims to bridge the divide between New Brunswick and the University through community service.
The department has three areas of focus: resources to students living off-campus, local community service initiatives called “Give Where You Live” and faith-based groups.
“When you’re here, you’re not just a guest,” Willson said. “We have an obligation to give back to the community, whether that’s working with a youth group or at a soup kitchen. We want the city to recognize the value we add to the city because the permanent residents of New Brunswick unfortunately don’t always have a favorable view of our students.”
In order to change this, the department is focusing on teaching students how to be a good neighbor with a new campaign called “The Twelve Commandments of Living Off-Campus.” One commandment, ‘Thou shalt not pee on thy neighbor’s lawn,’ goes hand-in-hand with decrees about noise level and littering.
During the New Student Orientation sessions, Willson talked with students about the importance of respecting the City of New Brunswick and spoke with resident assistants about the existence of the new project.
“We tend to think it is all students living behind the College (Avenue) Student Center, but it’s not,” she said. “There are families who live there, and our behavior has not always been perfect.”
The department has multiple layers of resources.
Anish Patel is a Good Neighbor Liaison for the department. He and other liaisons act as resources to lead students to more specialized resources.
"If you have a landlord tenant issues, you can come and talk to us, we can get you an appointment with Student Legal Services," he said. "Our job is to get the people to the resources and the resources to the people."
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated the Rutgers Office of Student Affairs launched a new department for Off-campus Living and Learning Partnerships.