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Living Near Campus: The Perks and Drawbacks of the Brooklyn College Residence Hall

 The kitchenette, complete with a refrigerator, microwave, hot plate and sink, is attached to each suite. PHOTO/ Radhika Viswanathan

The kitchenette, complete with a refrigerator, microwave, hot plate and sink, is attached to each suite. PHOTO/ Radhika Viswanathan

By Radhika Viswanathan

Published: May 4th, 2016

On the corner of Kenilworth Place and Farragut Road lies a towering structure with long glass windows, artistically planted trees, and students filtering in and out. Rising above a sea of small, rundown, single-family brick houses, the eight-floor building stands out as strikingly new and seemingly out of place.

In 2010, the Residence Hall at Brooklyn College (RHBC) was established to give students “the opportunity to live away from home… with all the comforts you’re used to plus added conveniences—at a fraction of city housing costs.” At least, that’s what Brooklyn College’s website advertises. Does the Residence Hall live up to this promise? Not really, many students say.

“The laundry machines are like always broken, I had a friend who tried to use them and when he opened the door after using it, it was just a pile of water in the clothes,” said Michelle Micara. “There’s also something wrong with the pipes. My friend lives on the eighth floor, and if you fill up a cup of water [from her sink] it looks gray.”

The students who were interviewed seemed to have no shortage of issues, from maintenance problems to cramped room spaces.

“The walls are paper thin. You can hear everything, even if people are just talking,” Micara continued. “But other than that, it’s great,” she said with a laugh.

To resolve these maintenance problems, the procedure is for students living in the Hall to fill out a work order form, located in the main office of the Residence Hall.

“One of the issues we see is that instead of coming to us, people come to social media,” said Tal Kimmel, a representative from the RHBC. “So we usually monitor that within social media and try to address the problems from there. We have a dedicated maintenance crew located on site.”

But even after filling out such a form, some students have been left waiting for the problems to be resolved. “I had a leak in my bathroom for a month plus, and they did nothing ‘till I called 311 on them,” said Ashley Hiatt. “And then within a few days they were moving me out of my room calling it a hazard after ignoring multiple requests to have it fixed.

The two-bedroom suite, costing $12,900 a year, is just enough room for a bunk bed and two desks. PHOTO/ Radhika Viswanathan
The two-bedroom suite, costing $12,900 a year, is just enough room for a bunk bed and two desks. PHOTO/ Radhika Viswanathan

Students have also reported much larger issues than simple maintenance.

“When I first moved in, my mattress was urine stained (though I swapped it with my suite-mate’s clean mattress—I know that was a jerk move, but I didn’t want a peed-on mattress),” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “There were a a lot of mystery stains on the walls, and on the furniture as well.”

Furthermore, this student reported: “I’ve heard from other people that there is one member of the security staff that constantly leers and eyes the girls who live here, and has been accused of inappropriate behavior towards the girls before.”

In response to this allegation, Kimmel said neither he nor his on-site staff had heard of any such complaint. Furthermore, he clarified that “until about two weeks ago, the college was in charge of the hiring, training and supervision of the security company at Residence Hall.” According to him, this agreement was terminated on April 10, 2016 due to the RHBC’s “Overall dissatisfaction with the college’s supervision of the on-site security personnel.”

Joseph Giovannelli, Brooklyn College’s Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration, said the College had never heard of such complaints either. “I have checked with Dean Jackson and with Andy Auguste, our Coordinator of Residential Life, and neither of them (nor myself) have received any allegations of inappropriate behavior by any of the security guards along the lines that you describe,” he said. “We would take such allegations very seriously and I suggest that you encourage the student to contact Andy, Dean Jackson, or myself, even anonymously.”

As the terms of the security hiring and training agreement have now changed, all future complaints regarding these issues should be sent to the RHBC management. “If you would forward to my attention any more information or details about the security guard and any of the complaints, I will see to it that appropriate measures are taken,” said Kimmel.

But by far, the most popular complaint seems to be the price of the dorm rooms. “For the price we pay for the square footage, we could be getting a better deal throughout Flatbush,” said freshman Chun Wei Hong.

Many students agreed with this sentiment. “I can not stress how ridiculously small sized the bunk room rooms are. It’s ridiculous, especially for the amount paid,” said a student who only wanted to be referred to with the initials B.A. “I’ve seen bigger college dorm rooms for bunks that are of the same value.”

In response, the RHBC attests that students are truly getting the best bang for their buck. “Apartments in New York are small… this is the reality of real estate in New York City,” said Kimmel. “We do think that we offer a very good value for the dollars. It’s all inclusive, electricity, heating cooling, Wi-Fi, gym membership. It’s a very convenient one-stop solution.”

So how does the cost of living in the RHBC compare to the rest of the neighborhood? True; rent in Brooklyn has risen at astronomical rates, making it the most unaffordable borough to live in. Neighborhoods such as Williamsburg have median rents that are north of $3,500 a month, according to Trulia’s market data. But median rent in the neighborhoods surrounding Brooklyn College is nowhere near as expensive. In Midwood, it’s $2,500. In Flatbush-Ditmas Park, it’s $2,150. And in East Flatbush, it’s $1,800. For one-bedroom apartments, the number drops to just about $1,000 a month, or $12,000 a year.

Now compare that to the rates given by the Residence Halls: $11,900 a year for a shared room and $15,950 for a single room. Because these prices include all amenities, the numbers are comparable.

The one aspect that students do feel shortchanged on is the size of the apartment. The Residence Hall did not have exact room dimensions available, but a visit to the dorms showed that the double bedroom was barely large enough to squeeze in a bunk bed and two desks: “I can reach my desk from my bed,” said Micara.

And the kitchen space allows for just a hot plate, microwave, refrigerator, and some cupboard space.

“We’re paying this much money, and yet I have such little space in my room,” said Micara. “That’s why most of the time I like to go home on the weekends.”

Privately owned, the RHBC does not have a direct affiliation with the school. As a result of this partnership, when it comes to the Residence Hall conditions, the college’s official position is: “The College will try to support and advocate for our students, when appropriate, in any situation that comes to our attention; however, the Residence Hall management is ultimately responsible for upkeep and management of the building,” according to Giovannelli.

In alignment with its goal to “support and advocate” for students, the college has a Student Life Housing Coordinator, Andy Auguste. Students interested in moving near campus can visit Auguste for nearby housing options.

“A lot of schools say, ‘You have to live in the dorms for a year’,” said Auguste. “I’m all about the options.”

However, Brooklyn College administration and RHBC management do have a set of agreements. “The college is required to refer students to us exclusively for 25 years,” said Kimmel. “There are a number of agreements, but this is the main part of the foundation for why this building was built.”

As far as maintaining this referral agreement goes, “That sits above me,” said Auguste, “It doesn’t always make sense for everyone to live in the Residence Hall. For example, if you’re married and have children, you can’t live there. So there is a huge fraction of people I’m ignoring if we keep that policy. [RHBC management are] businessmen and women. And I respect that. We’re educators, we have different goals… but we both have the best intentions for the students.”

And it seems that the Residence Hall does have the best intentions for Brooklyn College students.

“We have a security desk that’s manned 24/7 and a shuttle to take people to campus. We’re planning to add a pool on the roof, some lounge chairs and umbrellas. We think it’s going to be fantastic, especially for the summer,” said Kimmel. “We’re always asking students for feedback, always trying to add amenities based on what they want.”

The Residence Hall also offers a music room, a gym, a lounge area with vending machines and a television.

As a result of these perks, not all the feedback has been negative. “l think the Residence Hall at Brooklyn College is a very good option if you’re trying to live close to campus at Brooklyn College,” said Justin Linville. “It’s relatively expensive and kind of small but we are in New York City. There are also a lot of amenities and resources that are very helpful and convenient and I’ve always felt safe at the dorms. It really suits all the needs of a student living in New York City.”

“There are students here who don’t go to Brooklyn College. My roommate goes to Kingsborough,” said Micara. “I met a foreign exchange students from Singapore here, so it’s really cool that you can meet new people though the dorms.”

But still, many students have found that the biggest perk of the Residence Halls is one that’s a bit counterintuitive: “It’s a great place to find someone to move out with,” said Micara. “That’s why mostly everyone here is a freshman, or first-year. I myself am planning to move out with a few friends next year.”

That’s the feeling most students seem to have. “I do not plan on living here next semester,” said the anonymous student. “My advice to anyone who is coming from out of state to go to BC is live at the dorms for a semester only if you must, and then get the hell out and find an apartment.”

The average Brooklyn College student comes to college a few hours a day for class, commutes from home, and is not generally concerned with campus life; in fact, according to the 2014 CUNY Student Experience Survey, just eleven percent of Brooklyn College students live with friends, roommates, or other students (the rest largely live with parents or other family members). So why does the Residence Hall appeal matter?

“It is a great marketing tool for the college,” said Kimmel. “Even though they don’t have on-campus housing, they can say, ‘Look, we have this Residence Hall right outside of campus.’ Because we are the ‘on-campus’ housing for Brooklyn College, the school is required to market us as such.”

The Residence Hall is also a popular first spot for international students and out-of-state students to move when attending college. The issue is, as many students have pointed out, many of these people tend to move out after the first year once they learn about other housing options.

The 2014 CUNY Student Experience Survey also reports that 70 percent of Brooklyn College students spend no time participating in student activities. Perhaps that dismal statistic is a result of the fact that so few students live near campus. And if more students found a home in the Residence Halls at Brooklyn College, maybe that number could change.

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