Miami University plans to cancel its contract with the off-campus housing website, MiamiOHOffCampus.com because it feels the service is no longer as helpful to students as it once was.
The website, operated by a Costar company Off Campus Partners provides information for first-time renters. Some of its services include a roommate search, available rental listings, tips for dealing with landlords and how to read different types of lease agreements.
According to Miami’s Assistant Vice President for Student Life, Scott Walter, this type of website was more helpful eight to ten years ago, when there was both a student housing shortage and when social media didn’t have as large of a presence and impact.
According to Walter, “the landscape of off-campus housing has changed dramatically in the past decade, and even in the past four years.”
One of the biggest changes is the way that students have learned to figure these things out themselves.
“What I’ve heard from students is that they use Facebook class pages to find leases to sublease their house and to find roommates,” says Walter.
Class pages are organized groups on Facebook for Miami’s class of 2020, 2021, 2022, etc. Many, if not all universities, have them today.
Another change is the amount of student housing available now. The idea that students have to sign a year or two in advance for a house comes from the time when housing was more limited, says Walter.
“Students hold all the power now,” says Walter, when it comes to choosing a place to live.
The decision to not renew the contract stems from a couple different, but related reasons.
Even though there is legal writing at the bottom of the site saying the website is not run by Miami, it still “gives the perception, real or not, that we have the ability to influence or change things and to make situations better with landlords” says Walter.
Walter says he and other students have used an “eyeball test” to see how student engagement has changed overtime, particularly at the Miami’s housing fair.
Over time, Walter says, “I’ve noticed less of an interest, and students have less of an interest putting on events like the housing fair.”
There are concerns from members of the city council about the potential loss of information from Miami to off-campus students.
Oxford Mayor Kate Rousmaniere has voiced concerns about the cancellation.
“The city considers this website really important because it’s a connection between the thousands of students living off-campus and the city,” says Rousmaniere. “The only other type of communication we have with off-campus residents is when they’re getting in trouble.”
Along with it fostering a positive connection between the city, Miami and off-campus students, Rousmaniere wonders if the website was advertised enough and if students even knew about it or the other things Miami did to help students find housing.
“I often wonder if students really even knew about the website or the housing fair. The housing fair is being cancelled this year because Miami said there was low attendance.”
Walter says that Miami has a website with similar information and that the university wants to add more to make up for anything that would potentially be lost.
“We don’t want the students to feel like we’re abandoning them. Our plan right now is to add a FAQ page to that site to help provide additional aid to students,” says Walter.
As of right now, the contract with the website will be cancelled in a few weeks.
“We’re going to get through this semester and see if we need to reevaluate the decision.” says Walter.
Kenneth Jones, the person-of-contact for MiamiOHOffCampus.com, says that the company will remain committed to serving the community.
“We have had a great relationship with the university over the last several years and have been honored to help students with the off-campus housing search process,” says Jones. While we are very disappointed that the university decided not to continue to offer this service, we remain committed to serving the students at Miami and in the Oxford community at MaimiOHOffCampus.com. Should the university reconsider its decision, we would be honored to continue our partnership.”