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New off-campus housing policy announced

November 10, 2017

The College announced its new off-campus housing policy on Wednesday, which includes restricting eligibility for off-campus living to juniors and seniors and capping the total number of students who can live off campus to 185 in the 2018-2019 academic year, down from this year’s cap of 200. In addition, a process to renovate and build higher quality upperclass housing is currently underway.

The Office of Residential Life and a number of other administrators developed the policy, which is a direct result of the findings and recommendations from a working group that was assembled last February to re-examine the College’s housing policies.

Among the key findings from the group’s study, which included 1,600 “touches” with people on and around campus, according to Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, was that the College needs to improve and to build new upperclass housing and that the lack of appealing accommodations for upperclass students is a major driver in students’ decisions to move off campus.

Foster confirmed that the College has already begun the planning process to build new upperclass housing and renovate existing structures. Specifically, the College plans to build townhouse-style housing that will include single bedrooms, a common area suitable for group gatherings and a kitchen.

Foster declined to comment where these projects will occur, but said that a committee of students, staff and faculty will be involved in the design process after an architect is named.

“The ultimate objective here is to build this new housing, increasing our on-campus housing capacity, improving our on-campus housing, drawing people back to campus and ultimately having first years, sophomores and juniors living on campus and 25 percent of seniors and super-seniors living off,” said Foster.

A major reason for this goal is an increase in students choosing to live off campus in recent years. In fall 2016, 12.1 percent of students lived off campus, a sharp increase from the average of around 7.6 percent from 2008 to 2015, a percentage among the highest in the NESCAC.

According to the working group, one of the negative effects of students, particularly seniors, living off campus is a decreased sense of community and senior engagement on campus, which includes seniors taking fewer leadership roles and causing the campus’ social life to go off campus. Other downsides the group identified are the creation of exclusive spaces and disruptions for neighbors.

While the cap for the 2017-2018 academic year is 200 students, only 179 juniors and seniors currently live off campus.

Foster cited enrollment patterns as well as recent improvements to some housing options, such as the removal of one-bedroom triples in Brunswick Apartments as reasons for the decline in the cap. He expects this cap will continue to fall over time.

“If this plan goes forward, as we begin to build the housing, the cap will become smaller in incremental steps and will ultimately come to the place where 125 or so have the opportunity [to live off campus],” he added.

Director of Housing Operations Lisa Rendall notified all students in an email on Wednesday morning about the change in the policy, as well as changes in the process that students who wish to live off campus must complete.

The new process consists of three steps. The first requires students to submit an application to enter the off-campus housing lottery by January 2. If accepted, the second step of the process is actually entering the lottery, which is available from November 28 to January 5. Students are allowed to block in groups of one to six. The final step is signing the off-campus housing contract, which is binding and withdraws eligibility into the on-campus lottery.

“From what we understood, [living off campus was passed off], where you have teammates who do it or you have connections, whereas there wasn’t as much institutional support for groups of students who aren’t a part of that passing off experience,” said Bowdoin Student Government President Irfan Alam ’18, who was also a member of the working group.

“The idea behind the lottery was to equalize it so that now everyone has the opportunity to live off campus, and there’s an educational component working with Office of Residential Life to sign a lease,” he said.

During this first step, the Office of the Residential Life will decide whether to approve applications to join the lottery.

Rendall doesn’t anticipate needing to reject many applications but said that if issues were to arise, they would be dealt with on an individual basis.

Foster described this possibility as “highly unusual.”

“I can’t tell you [that] we have criteria that exist for saying this student would or this student wouldn’t [be allowed to enter into the off-campus housing lottery],” he said.

While the working group reported some negative effects of off-campus living, such as nuisance complaints, Foster said that the decision to formalize an off-campus housing policy was not a direct result of these houses and that, he believes, overall, off-campus living is a positive element of our relationship with the community.

“To think that we would set up a housing policy based on what has been a handful of properties that have been sort of problematic, to me would be backwards thinking,” said Foster. “[The vast majority] of students who have lived within the community [have done so] in a really beautiful way, to their benefit and to the benefit of Brunswick residents.”

Rachael Allen and Harry DiPrinzio contributed to this report.

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