While it may seem simple to categorize on- versus off-campus housing in terms of pricing, each location comes with expenses that can often be overlooked.
First-year undergraduate residence halls include Upper and Lower Centennials; McClintic-Marshall House; Dravo House; and Richards House, each costing $3,410 per semester. As second-year undergraduates, students have a few more options. They can live in a Greek house for $3,655 per semester; House 104, Umoja House (also available to first-year students), or Warren Square, all also for $3,655; Brodhead House, Taylor House or a Trembley Park suite single for $3,795; and Sayre Park Village, Campus Square or a Trembley apartment for $3,970.
Undergraduate students in their third, fourth or fifth years have the option to reside off-campus through a third-party lease. These students are not guaranteed university housing but can enter the Residence Hall housing selection, which is based on lottery numbers, if they wish to remain on campus. When evaluating the prices of both options, there are several factors to take into consideration.
Local landlords James Byszewski and Louis Intile, who run Fifth Street Capital Partners, have been renting off-campus properties to Lehigh students since 2007. Managing around 35 houses, they base their prices on desirability, amenities, size, parking, the backyard space and how much money they invest in the property — including energy efficiency that lowers utility costs. The highest demand among off-campus housing tends to be in the areas of E. 5th and Hillside streets, and rent costs range from $300 to $600.
“There’s more to the cost of living in a property than the monthly rent,” Intile said.
Heating, electric, gas and cable service are among the expenses that make up utilities. Another cost to take into consideration is meals.
On-campus upperclassmen, with the exception of those living in Trembley, Sayre and Campus Square, are required to be on a meal plan of either 14 meals per week or 150 meals per semester. Local eateries off-campus can provide cheaper food and more flexibility, while personal kitchens can also provide healthier options.
Byzewski explained that most students who contact Fifth Street Capital Partners prefer to go off campus because of the responsibility and independence associated with living on their own. The opportunity to learn how to manage a household and pay bills is attractive to many upperclassmen. Off-campus residents also have the luxury of unlimited use of their house during breaks, while access to on-campus properties during such times is limited.
Jordan Smith, ’15, lived in her sorority house during both her sophomore and junior years. However, she now is a resident of Birkel Avenue. She lives in a five-person house and pays $500 monthly, which does not include utilities. In her case, furniture was also passed down from the house’s previous residents.
“I don’t think it is fair to simply compare the physical costs of living off-campus as opposed to on-campus,” Smith said. “It is important to factor in the skills you gain, such as time management between classes, cooking and a new sense of independence.”
While some students look forward to these new freedoms, it is not a priority for everyone.
“Aside from our good luck in the lottery, we chose to live on-campus because it was a matter of safety and especially, most importantly, convenience,” Campus Square resident Madeleine Varmer, ’15, said.
Luzmary Sabino, ’15, lives on Summit Street with four other residents and pays $530 monthly, with utilities included. After missing the deadline to register for the housing lottery, she said the easiest option for her was to go off campus.
“I’m saving around $2,000 for the year because I didn’t pay summer rent,” Sabino said. “If I had, I would be saving around $500 more than if I would have lived in Campus Square. However, I don’t think $500 is worth it.”
When solely looking at monthly rent for off-campus housing, it seems easy to find cheaper options than on-campus residences. However, when the cost of amenities is taken into consideration, the costs of off-campus and on-campus housing can become equal.
Associate Director of Residential Services Christina D’Aversa emphasized that the first step for students is to decide the type of experience they want.
“When you choose to live in the residence halls, you are asking for full service,” D’Aversa said. On-campus residence halls provide electric, furniture, cable, internet, a phone line, garbage service, convenient laundry locations and more. Essentially, while it can be less expensive to live off campus, she stressed it can also be more difficult.
“We are in line (with off-campus prices) when you take a look at the amenities that we offer,” D’Aversa said. “Is our rent the same? No. But with the amenities, we are.”