According to Residence Life Director Pamela McDowell, 184 students currently live in off-campus housing. As of March 9, 130 applications had already been submitted for next year. Thats roughly 40 more than usual for this time of year.
At first glance this appears to be a blessing for the school. With 792 first-year students residence hall space is difficult to come by. More students living off-campus would seem to be a convenient solution to alleviate some of that pressure.
That, however, is not the case.
We are not going to grow off-campus housing, McDowell said. In fact, our goal is to reduce that number.
McDowell cited problems that have arisen in recent years between students and members of the community as the reason for this goal. Northfield residents have complained about noise, parking and blight (house upkeep) issues pertaining to houses owned by both Carleton and St. Olaf students.
While Carleton has taken a more hands-off approach to these issues, deferring to the landlords responsibility, St. Olaf has tried to address community concerns directly.
We have told community members that we want to reduce the amount of students living off-campus, McDowell said. And neighbors have been generally happy with our response.
Northfield is also taking steps to solve the problem. Formal discussions have been taking place among city council members for some months now about reducing the number of non-family members who can live together. The number is currently five, but some would like to reduce it to three or four.
McDowell, however, feels that such a measure would only spread out the population of college students in the community. If they cut it down to three, they will see student saturation in areas they have never seen it before, she said.
If the city does indeed cut the number from five people, students who have already signed leases could be affected. It is possible that the city could choose not to grandfather in previously signed leases. This would have consequences for students, landlords and college administrations alike.
My frustration is that the city does not have an answer, McDowell said. I would hope they would allow students and landlords to abide by their original lease agreements.
Regardless of what decision is made, McDowell says that 150-175 students need to live off-campus next year (not including honor houses) to make things comfortable on campus. With so many off-campus applications already submitted, however, and St. Olaf hoping to get below the current number of 184, the school could be faced with a difficult situation.
Chris Hauck 08 secured an off-campus house in December and questions the colleges possible cuts. Students put a lot of planning and work into getting their houses. I dont feel that the St. Olaf administration should have the right to prevent us from living off-campus, he said.
Like Hauck, many students signed leases last semester, long before the March 16 deadline for off-campus applications. Rejecting their requests would send landlords scrambling to fill houses with very little time before existing agreements are up (typically June 1).
Abby Swenson 08 signed a lease in February and also feels the school should allow students to honor their agreements. St. Olaf should support our decision to live off-campus. I think keeping students on campus would only alienate the administration from the student body and create more problems than it would solve, she said.
McDowell remains optimistic, saying that students living off-campus have had a good year.
Right now it is unclear what will happen, but over the next few months the off-campus living situation should become much clearer.