Calvin College has two initiatives related to off-campus housing:
- The first is a simple off-campus address registration form.
- The second is the college’s clear expectations and stated consequences for students living in off-campus housing.
What is the off-campus address registration form?
The address information form includes your name, your local off-campus address and contact information. As with all student records, the college will maintain local address records within all applicable FERPA regulations.
Why is the information necessary?
It is a best practice in higher education for institutions to know where their students live and how to reach them efficiently. When there are emergencies, it is critical that the college have the ability to contact its students. Situations have occurred where, due to inaccurate information, we have had needless delay in contacting students in emergency situations. In addition to improving contact information, Calvin will use housing information to confirm that off-campus students are living within the zoning ordinances of Grand Rapids or nearby municipalities.
What are the zoning ordinances again?
For the vast majority of houses in Grand Rapids, no more than four unrelated people can live together. If you live in Kentwood, the zoning ordinance is based on square footage. Check with your landlord.
What if students fail to respond to the policy expectations?
The form must be submitted by Friday, September 16, 2016. Failure to submit this address by the deadline will result in a $50 late fee. If by September 30 this is still unresolved, an additional $50 late feel (hence, $100 total) will be added to the student’s account, as well as having a financial “hold” placed on the account. The hold will be lifted once the student reports a local address. Furthermore, students must verify via digital signature their “compliance” or “non-compliance” with applicable zoning ordinances on occupancy (e.g. no more than four unrelated adults may reside in most residential housing units in the city of Grand Rapids; Kentwood zoning is based on square footage and number of bedrooms; etc.). If students are unable to honestly confirm compliance, they will have the opportunity to explain their housing situation on the form. The college will do its best to work with students who are truthful, even if admitting non-compliance. Students found to be living in violation of applicable zoning ordinances will be subject to any or all of the following:
- A fine of $250 per student, per semester, will be levied until the situation is verifiably resolved. Note: this fine is independent of any action the city may take against occupants or landlords, and in no way exempts students from the requirements of applicable local ordinances.
- A letter of non-compliant housing will be filed in the student’s college record.
- The college will affirm addresses if requested by city authorities who are formally investigating specific violations of occupancy ordinances.
- Apart from any current or future college response, students face consequences from city authorities as defined in zoning ordinances, including evictions and other civil penalties for non-compliance.
What happens if a student is dishonest on either submitting an accurate, local address or the compliance/non-compliance form?
Students who provide false information during the local address and compliance/non-compliance registration process will be subject to further disciplinary action by the college. Truth-telling is a virtue; dishonesty is to be abhorred. We trust that students will be truthful and will firmly discipline students who choose to lie to the college.
Why does Calvin care about where and how its students live?
Calvin cares about its students and the city of Grand Rapids. We work in numerous ways already with city-wide organizations such as schools, neighborhoods, agencies, boards, churches, etc. As the largest private college in the city that does not provide on-campus housing for all its students, it is in Calvin’s best interest, and we believe in our students’ best interest, to foster close and cordial partnerships with our neighbors. In the past, some of our students have lived in situations which have had the potential to create negative consequences for neighborhoods. Cars and noise are just two tangible problems associated with such situations. Hence, neighbors, city representatives and the police appreciate the college’s off-campus housing policies as it helps to protect their property values, gives them some consistency of tenant behavior and reduces some of the problems associated with overcrowding. We also care about our students. Living outside the ordinance has in the past made students reluctant to report things such as unsafe housing violations (e.g., no smoke detector, broken windows, etc.), for fear they would be found in violation of the zoning rules. Other students have lived looking over their shoulder, afraid neighbors would report their illegal living situation to the police. This also is a disruptive environment for our students to be part of and is counterproductive to who we are as followers of Christ and Christian witnesses. We want to teach, learn and model virtues such as justice and honesty. As members of the Calvin community, even if we don’t agree with this ordinance, even if it makes living off-campus more expensive, complying with it is the right thing to do. To help the city of Grand Rapids flourish, as well as our students, we believe that respecting authority and living legally are expectations we should demonstrate.
How did we get to this point?
Calvin recognizes the complexity of the issue for some students, particularly in light of prior years of overcrowding with little consequence, the availability of larger homes, financial considerations and even roommate dynamics. Doing this might feel painful and unnecessary. But the reasons listed above address why we’ve decided to proceed and why we believe it is now necessary. There is an important history in all of this which really culminated in fall 2009 after 15 houses in nearby neighborhoods were confronted by the police and the city for Calvin students living there in overcrowding (thus illegal) situations. Discussions began in October 2009, and in December 2009 students and parents received a letter with more on this issue. In December of that year, there also were two open brainstorming meetings. Further discussions included our community neighborhood associations, personnel from the City of Grand Rapids and police department, Student Senate, the Student Life Committee, President’s Cabinet, the Parent Council and the Board of Trustees. The college also held more student forums in the spring of 2010 to talk about options and alternatives. By April 2010, the new policy was formed and took effect for the first time in the fall of 2010. The current policy has been in place since the 2010-11 academic year. In meetings with neighborhood associations, city representatives and the police, there is consistent support of the policy. Similarly, Student Life representatives believe that the policy is both just and fair and accurately reflects the values, such as justice and honesty, that we expect to embody as a college committed to Christ and the welfare of our neighbors and students.
What else has the college done on this issue?
We have explored ways to work with the city, with landlords and with students to find reasonable and legal accommodations. We have attempted to work with the city to consider slightly altered zoning scenarios toward more flexibility regarding code regulations, though to date, no adjustments have been made. We have also worked to provide education about off-campus living to help better prepare students for the wide range of issues connected with living off-campus. We have also continued to work cooperatively with various neighborhood associations, the city and local police.
So, what are students’ options?
Here is some simple advice on how to live in compliance:
- Spend time researching your available and legal options.
- For friendship groups of more than four, consider apartment complexes where you can live in the same building or find a duplex where you can rent both sides.
- In Grand Rapids area neighborhoods, negotiate with your landlord on what you can afford to pay now that you are living with four or less.
- Although quite complex, and therefore unlikely, suggest that your landlord investigate the possibility of securing a variance from the city for the rental property to be legally permitted to exceed four (4) unrelated people. Neither you nor the college can request this—it is the property owner’s responsibility.