Administration keeps firm but fair hand on off-campus houses
THE SANTA CLARA
October 6, 2016
Santa Clara wants its students to know that it’s all good in the ‘hood.
Last October, the university announced that they were converting over 20 off-campus homes, mainly south of campus, into university-operated Neighborhood Units. In the spring, students applied to live in the homes through the Housing Office, the units were renovated over the summer and are now monitored by Campus Safety.
Campus Safety’s New Role
After the policy was announced, students flooded university forums to voice their shock, outrage and disapproval of the new policy. Since many fraternity satellite houses were set to be converted into neighborhood units, some feared that the off campus party scene would be destroyed due to increased Campus Safety surveillance.
According to ASG senate chair senior Neil Datar, the Associated Student Government conducted a poll of nearly 600 Santa Clara students last school year that revealed 90 percent of them disapproved of the new Neighborhood Unit policy.
“Hopefully a productive partnership between administration, students and Campus Safety can help bring that number down significantly,” Datar said.
Datar said that he would like to see a “deeper acknowledgement” of the Neighborhood Units as houses instead of dorms, and wants a “clearer definition” in how Campus Safety will police them.
“They differ from the Residential Learning Communities in important ways and student residents of the Neighborhood Units have an expectation of being treated judicially as residents of houses rather than as RLC residents,” Datar said
In spring of this year, senior Kasim Shaikh lived in a home that was converted to a Neighborhood Unit over the summer. He said that he has not noticed an increased amount of Campus Safety patrol so far, despite the fact that his house has thrown parties.
“We’ve thrown down already this year,” Shaikh said. “We just had 20 to 25 people over and we kept it low-key and inside the house. Campus Safety didn’t bother us at all.”
Jane Barrantes, assistant vice president of Auxiliary Services, said that the university collected a list of student contacts from each house to be given to Campus Safety. If anyone calls with a complaint, Barrantes said, Campus Safety will call them rather than immediately knock on their door.
“They will not be patrolling the area and per say, ‘dreaming up things.’ They will be responding to calls that will be submitted to their office,” Barrantes said.
“The students imagine that Campus Safety will be patrolling the area, that’s not what they are planning on doing.”
Barrantes said that if someone calls Campus Safety to complain about noise coming from a Neighborhood Unit, an officer will call the student listed as a point of contact in the house and ask them to quiet down. Following the call, Campus Safety will pass by the house to ensure that the students complied.
“It’s nice to have a point of contact instead of having to knock on someone’s door and (making) a situation strained for no reason,” said Callie Rimpfel, the off-campus area coordinator in the Office of Student Life. “We asked for the contact information from one to three people from each house or apartment and we got a response from every place.”
Compared to last school year, Shaikh said that he has not noticed Campus Safety carrying out any additional surveillance of the area around his Neighborhood Unit. He also said that Campus Safety contacted him to inform him about a noise complaint from a neighbor.
“I was at home (one) weekend and I got a call from Campus Safety and they said ‘there was a noise complaint from your neighbor and we just want you to turn the music down,’” Shaikh said. “I thought it was really cool that the cops weren’t called for a noise complaint.”
Improved Living Conditions
Housing code violations are rampant in most off-campus houses not overseen by the university, creating risks to student health and safety. Internet cables dangle outside of windows and snake around exteriors of homes, creating massive fire hazards.
Flimsy locks on front and back doors leave students vulnerable to burglaries— laptops, cell phones, gaming equipment and other electronic devices have been frequently stolen from off-campus houses in recent years.
This summer, the university made substantial updates to many of the homes converted into the Neighborhood Units.
They updated electrical wiring, painted the interiors of the homes, installed new carpets and flooring and added new light fixtures. According to Dave Machado, director of Conference Services and Housing Building Operations, the university also installed new interior keyhole locks and exterior electronic locks so students can open the units with their access cards.
Senior Lauren Betschart, who currently lives in one of the neighborhood units, said that her house was practically in shambles before it was renovated.
“My back window was completely a mess and it looked like someone had tried to break into it so they fixed it,” Betschart said. “They also put in all new doors, which is amazing because our front door looked like it was about it fall apart. It had chunks taken out of it.”
Betschart’s house wasn’t the only one that was worse for wear. According to Betschart, another Neighborhood Unit had holes punched through an entire wall before it was renovated.
Shaikh said that his house was in significantly better condition than the majority of the other homes, but renovations were still carried out. The university added new linoleum floors in the kitchen, installed a new refrigerator and stove and repainted the walls to Santa Clara’s signature off-white color. In addition, carpet was replaced in his bedroom and the hardwood was cleaned and polished.
Housing Office as Landlord
Students living in off-campus houses often complain about waiting weeks for their landlords to repair broken toilets and perform basic household maintenance. For those living in the Neighborhood Units, work orders are submitted through eCampus to fix broken appliances and repair leaky faucets.
“Housing has done a great job of fixing things that aren’t working within 48 hours max,” Rimpfel said. “Students wouldn’t have gotten that type of service otherwise without living in a neighborhood unit. It used to take weeks for people to get things they really need.”
Housing will also carry out health and safety checks on the Neighborhood Units like they do in the dorms and the University Villas. However, they will schedule appointments with each house to conduct the sweeps and ensure the homes are up to code.
This policy differs from the health and safety checks that take place in the dorms and the University Villas—housing staff enter student rooms at any point during a several day long period to conduct these checks.
“We make sure there aren’t extension cords all over and that doors have locks on them and make sure people are living in the designated room they are supposed to live in, not a garage or closet,” Rimpfel said.
To cut down on rent, students have been known to dwell in garages, living rooms, crawlspaces, attics and even cupboards in off-campus properties. Two years ago, three students who lived in a converted garage in the off-campus house called “Chalet” on Bellomy Street were displaced after the electrical sockets overloaded, sparked a fire and burnt down the illegal dwelling.
Because of these concerns, the university wants to ensure that students are living in designated bedrooms.
Consolidating Monthly Costs
“What makes the the Neighborhood Units unique is that rather than having every housemate sign a single lease, each student living in the houses signs individual housing contracts,” Barrantes said
This way, if anyone drops out of the lease, the other students living in the house aren’t burdened with the responsibility of paying the other student’s rent to keep from being evicted. The university is also responsible for the cost of utilities in the units.
“Utilities are paid for. All (we) have to pay for is TV and internet,” Shaikh said. “It’s a great luxury to have.”
Students have also voiced concerns about being able to get a housing contract for a Neighborhood Unit if they go abroad for a quarter.
Barrantes said that this is possible only if another student is willing to pay for the whole cost of a room while the student is gone.
“Over the next few years, we hope the process will be streamlined to account for student concerns such as the ability to stay in a Neighborhood Unit if they graduate from Santa Clara a quarter early,” Datar said.
Barrantes said that the policy for quarter-long housing contracts is the same as the University Villas.
“We will not hold a space for free for a student. But if one student wants to take a single for a quarter and make it into a double for the second and third quarters, we can do that,” she said.
Looking ahead, Barrantes said that so far the university has no plans to purchase any additional off-campus houses and convert them into Neighborhood Units. They are also working on a program that gives students priority registration for the houses if they attend a certain number of university-sponsored events related to off-campus housing.
“I’m very happy to know that the twenty-some houses we have are all safe and sanitary and clean,” Rimpfel said. “I think that’s a huge win.”
Contact Sophie Mattson at smattson@ scu.edu or call (408) 554-4849.