screenshot for housing piece

When the Towers fail CCNY’s international students, they are left no choice but to search for housing on their own. (Photo courtery of Victoria Lipov/Shutterstock.)

At City College, international students made up at least 20 percent of enrolled students during fall 2014, out of a total student body of 13,035.
This influx of international students is not unique: according to the 2014 Open Doors report, produced by the Institute of International Education, the number of international students in the United States has risen by 70 percent in the last 15 years. In fact, the United States enrolls more international students yearly than other country.

These numbers are abstract until put into perspective when it comes to providing housing for international students. The Towers, City College’s only on-campus dorm facility, contains 164 suites, enough for 500 to 600 students—barely a fraction of those likely to need accommodation. This makes it likely that international students will be pushed off-campus. It is difficult enough for native residents to find housing in New York’s increasingly competitive and unaffordable housing market, let alone students traveling from other countries who are most likely seeking accommodations before arriving.

It was early October when City College student Denise Richter first visited The Campus Magazine’s office (NAC 1/119). She came with not only this same problem, but also a solution.

Richter stated that being an international student, she wouldn’t know of the challenges waiting for her until after arriving to the big apple. She had experienced the stress that came along with the distance. She had been on the receiving end of housing scams. She also knew about other factors international students faced when looking for housing, such as time, a tight budget, and miscommunication with those in the position of providing housing. When asked why she was so focused on tackling these issues, she simply stated that she “would like to prevent students from experiencing that.”
The solution Richter proposed was HousingAnywhere, a platform that has already taken off in Europe. Richter is working to bring this to City College, explaining: “We unfortunately did not really get any help from the university in order to find housing, so we had to figure everything out by ourselves. Just the day you arrive at your rented place you would know if it was worth the effort, and it can be even worse if you haven’t even managed to find a place by the time you arrive in the city. This was unfortunately the case with most of the exchange students at CCNY.”

International student Juliette Baldy mentioned an alternative: Having family members in New York made all the difference until she found a place of her own. According to Baldy: ‘The only thing they tell you is that if you really do not find a place, you can come and see them they can find you a place the time for you to find a definitive place. I felt like it was just “okay come to my home to crash for few nights”.’ This wasn’t a long-term solution for Baldy, who resorted to Craigslist and housing forums to find housing, eventually agreeing to a situation out of her budget  due to lack of time.

The difficulty of finding affordable housing is nothing new—so why isn’t City College better at handling the disparity between supply and demand at this point?

Michael Cho, another international student, originally expected to stay on campus. Unfortunately, to live at The Towers a student must be able to live there for a minimum of a year—not the semester-long course of study that Cho was enrolled in. Cho tried contacting the staff at The Towers for clarification, but never received a response.

Though City College provided Cho “some information” while looking for housing, he felt that it wasn’t enough and didn’t really help him. Eventually, Cho decided to stay with a friend. “If it wasn’t [for] him,” Cho said, “I would have been staying in the street struggling finding a place to stay.”

Michael believes that City College should have housing plans for international students. “It would be really tough without any help just coming here,” he stated.

Emma Cornelisse, another international student at City College, also cited housing as a source of stress: “With the time difference and not being able to go visit, it was hard to find an accommodation all the way from another part of the world.” Cornelisse also mentioned the prevalence of online housing scams; there were so many that she didn’t know which housing ads were honest. “So even though I think City College provided great help with my courses and introduction to the university,” Cornelisse says, “housing is something that they need to work on. Because it is a big city, and can be quite intimidating for some students.”

HousingAnywhere, Richter’s proposed solution, would strive to provide international students more options when looking for housing. According to Richter, the goal is to first convince administration at CCNY to accept HousingAnywhere before Christmas. If all goes according to plan, HousingAnywhere would then spread out across CUNY, streamlining the process of seeking student accomodation. HousingAnywhere connects incoming international students seeking housing with host families or students who are looking to sublet their rooms, as well as allowing university-trusted landlords and brokers to advertise on the platform.

According to Richter: “The more partner universities there are, the more popular the platform is, the easier it [will be] for exchange and international students to find housing from a distance in a safe and easy way.”

International student mobility is something that Richter sees growing as more universities find partnerships internationally. In order to keep up with this trend of international students coming to the U.S., the methods in which housing can be acquired needs to also grow.

At City College especially, students need to have a support system to rely on when looking for housing—something that goes beyond the school’s official off-campus housing Facebook page. Richter, who is only studying at City College for fall 2015, remains optimistic about her push for HousingAnywhere.

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