Helping students find a home

The new housing service, Off-Campus Housing 101, aids students in finding housing and roommates.

Sarah Seman, Writer

Commuter Life launched an off-campus housing service this spring to aid the ever-expanding commuter population seeking homes in the greater community.

“We went from just Commuter Life to having this whole new department that we do,” explained Katie Tuttle, director of Commuter Life. Because it is only a small program of Commuter Life, similar to the Collegium or locker rental, the name of the department did not officially change.

Additional services offer more options for commuters

Services through the program can be primarily seen in two ways. The first is the creation of an Off-Campus Housing Services site, where students can find information on housing and tenant rights, parking maps, bus routes and local airports along with other useful resources that have been collected for students’ ease.

The second service is Biola’s partnership with a college housing software company called Off-Campus Housing 101. This site is an online rental advertising industry which allows property owners near colleges and universities, that have partnered with the company, to post listings to students and faculty for a small fee.

Students using the site can search for roommates or housing in the surrounding areas for free with specification like desired price range, number of bedrooms, neighborhood and property type — such as townhouse or apartment.

Before partnering with the 101 site, students looking for off-campus housing relied primarily on the classified listings through my.Biola.

Learning from other universities

In the summer of 2008, Jenny Matthes, associate director of Commuter Life, began researching the possibility of an online service to assist both the current students and perspective students looking for housing. She began by looking at California Christian universities like Westmont College and Azusa Pacific University. When she found that they offered little more than bulletin boards, she looked to a larger pool.

“I figured, well, Harvard’s got to have something and Stanford’s got to have something,” Matthes said. “It really just varied from just an advanced spreadsheet system that wasn’t updated regularly to full-on computer website software programs.”

Commuter Life also spoke with Student Development professionals at other schools and consulted deans and administrators in Talbot, Rosemead, the Cook School of Intercultural Studies, Auxiliary Services and Parent Relations before choosing to partner with Off-Campus Housing 101.

“We did comb through the entire site,” Tuttle said. “We actually asked them to change the design to be more friendly to our students and rewrote a lot of text.”

New site is student friendly

Since the May 9 launch, the Off-Campus Housing 101 site has listed 166 housing options. While they are not able to chart the exact amount of students who have found housing through the site, Tuttle said that students do occasionally come by the housing office located in the Upper SUB and say that they found property through the site.

Senior Timothy Chan searched options like Craigslist and the local Penny Saver before talking with Biola Housing and being directed to the Off-Campus Housing 101 site this summer.

Initially, Chan had some technical issues with the site when trying to use Google Chrome, but after speaking with Matthes, he was able to access the site through another browser. Chan chose to rent a room from a family who was offering a space in their home for around $200 less a month than he would pay for on-campus housing.

Chan suggested that students read the safety measures and the information found on the Off-Campus Housing site before signing a lease.

“It’s a lot to read, but if you are living off-campus you don’t have campus security around for that added protection,” Chan said.

Site helps narrow down roommate search

Students can also use the site to search for a roommate. Junior BOLD student Tony Castorena used the site to rent a room in his apartment and had around 25 people contact him. In addition to inquiries about his room for rent, people also began contacting him to ask if he wanted to rent from them.

Castorena said he found using the site relatively easy and was able to post his ad for free through the site. He felt better posting through Biola knowing that it would be more likely to connect him with other like-minded brothers in Christ, which helped reduce the stress of finding a roommate amid his busy college schedule.

“You are able to put down what type of person you are. Are you early to rise? Are you a night owl? So you’re pretty much telling people about yourself and you’re allowed to read about them as well, to consider if you want them to be your roommate,” Castorena said.

While the site is free to students and faculty, approval for funding was still required from the university to pay for the new Biola positions that were needed for the launch and care of the new off-campus housing service, Tuttle explained.

Working with landlords, parents and students

Funding was needed to send mailing out to landlords in the area and to hire a temporary administrative assistant who would work in the summer to develop the online resources found on the new housing site.

A large chunk of the funding went into Matthes’ salary, who w 26 to 40 hours a week as she stepped into the role of liaison between Biola and their partnering Off-Campus Housing 101 site.
“The last thing we want to do is put something like this up online and have nobody available to answer questions,” Tuttle said.

Matthes works with students, parents and landlords to answer any questions and direct those who are confused about the site.

“There is just a customer service aspect to making sure that people in the community, the direct Biola community and the greater surrounding community, get questions answered and know how to list — and just have a good face to Biola as we work with them,” Matthes said.

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