Things to Consider Regarding Living Off-Campus
by Robert Crow, Dean of Student Development
Sing the “State Farm” jingle as you read this: And like a good neighbor, Calvin College is there.
I have always been a bit jealous that an insurance company has co-opted this important theological truth of being a good neighbor. I also remember Jesus’ penetrating words from the Samaritan story of Luke 10: “Which of these…was a good neighbor?” After all, loving others is a fulfillment of God’s command, a tangible illustration of our love for God. And, since loving God and loving our neighbor has everything to do with our educational paradigm at Calvin College, I am writing to you, parents, to encourage you and your children to take seriously our obligation and opportunity to love others as we love ourselves, even as your student considers living off-campus.
To be sure, we have an incredibly well-developed residence life program for the 2,400 students who live on-campus. But what about the remaining 1,800 students who simply cannot fit into campus housing? They move into various neighborhoods in the Grand Rapids community, and thus, are quite literally confronted with an opportunity to embody what it means to be a good neighbor.
As you counsel your children regarding future living arrangements while they are students here, you may entertain off-campus options. You may consider purchasing a home for them to live in with other students. Or you may assist them in finding an appropriate living arrangement through rental property. Whatever you decide, I urge you to have at the center of that conversation what it would mean to “be a good neighbor.”
Purchasing a home?
Before you consider purchasing a home for your student to live in, ask yourself one fundamental question: would I want my child and their friends to live beside me? If you can answer this affirmatively, then take the next step toward making this happen. But if you can’t honestly say that, because you might envision multiple cars, noise, late-night guests, less-than-kept property, etc., all of which would devalue your home (not house, but home) and detract from your neighborhood, then pursue more suitable options.
I recently had a conversation with a former homeowner from a street adjacent to campus. He informed me that he sold his home because of Calvin College students. I was dismayed to learn this. He was quick to say that they were “nice” students, but the multiple cars on the street, the frequent visitors at all hours of the night, the students who walked through his yard to get to campus, not to mention the growing number of homes in the immediate area of Calvin’s campus that are being purchased as rental properties for (most likely anyway, Calvin) students, all led to his frustration and concern and eventual move from the neighborhood. As he looked at the future, I am sure he envisioned his property value going down and the headaches going up. I felt badly for him, as well as for the impression our “nice” students who are increasingly renting homes in the area, has made on him. And I am told there are others who feel as this disgruntled former neighbor does.
So, as you talk with your student about their possibly living off-campus, please do the good and faithful work of placing this decision in the context of being a loving neighbor. And as you do, use as a general rule of thumb: “would I want my child and their friends living beside me in rental property?” as a guide to help place you in the position of current homeowners in the area, some of which are not pleased to see a house full of college students on their street.
Renting or Leasing?
For most of you, home ownership is not an option for you to consider for your child as they move off-campus. Thus, as most of our current students do, they live in rented or leased apartments/homes, usually with other Calvin students. (For information and assistance on rental property, please refer to our rentals page.)
Again, as you discuss this option with your child, I would urge you to structure the conversation around the concept of being a good neighbor. If others will know us by our love, they should be able to tell that by the way we live in a community.
The number one complaint I receive from neighbors is the overabundance of cars at a given rental property. Whereas a house may typically have two cars, often with rental property, the number of cars is equivalent to the number of people living there. (Times certainly have changed since I was in college!) The second complaint is noise, often later in the evening. A third, but which is often the umbrella over the first two is that there are too many people living in the property (city code requires that not more than four unrelated people may live together in one dwelling).
Please do not let your child live illegally by having more than four unrelated people dwell together. I realize that there are economic advantages of having six people divide the monthly rent and utilities versus four people. But I have also seen some of the places where students have to live (basements and attics, both of which are also against the law unless there are appropriate points of egress) and am concerned for their welfare and safety. Moreover, what are students learning by setting aside the housing code for economic gain? Shall we encourage them to do the same with their taxes? With their academic work? Or with anything else for which something profitable is valued more than something lawful? Decisions made now set the trajectory for decisions made in the future. And we all know that decisions shape lifestyle choices, which speak volumes about what we value.
The front cover of the November 9, 2004 “Grand Rapids Press” featured 5 Calvin women who were in the process of having to remove one of their roommates in order to be in compliance with the city code of not having more than four unrelated people living together. The title of the article was: “Students get lesson on city’s theory of relativity.” It was a sad story, of 5 outstanding women who had done their best to be “neighborly,” even making homemade cookies for the neighbors. But someone complained, probably because of too many cars or some late night noise. The next thing these students knew, in the middle of dealing with the stress of class, tests, papers, work, etc., they had to figure out a different living arrangement. It was terribly stressful on them, as it was for the other eight houses of Calvin students who were similarly cited this fall for having too many unrelated people living together.
Love God…love others
We value our relationship with parents. We know we work together as partners in the holistic education of our students. With you, our deepest longing is for students to love God and love others. In very practical terms, students get to work at this as they consider living in one of the Grand Rapids neighborhoods. Together, let’s encourage them to be “good neighbors.” Let’s help them to be able to answer Jesus’ question, “Which of these was a good neighbor?” with a resounding: “Me! I’ll do it. I’ll be a good neighbor.”
C. Robert Crow
Dean of Student Development