Residents at Monday's meeting of the grilled two Stony Brook officials over the university's plans to increase enrollment and add housing space, saying those plans will only exacerbate existing quality-of-life issues in the community.
According to a presentation delivered by Barbara Chernow, Senior Vice President for Administration, and Elaine Crosson, Vice President for External Affairs, crime on campus is down; there are fewer fire alarms; there are more mass transportation options and increased sustainability practices on campus. However, it was the university's plan to increase enrollment and add more than 3,000 beds in a handful of new residence halls that caught much of the residents' attention.
Some present at the meeting worried that the increase in students would overburden local infrastructure and resources such as the sewage treatment facility on the campus, at which point Chernow said the university would still be "well within the capacity for the sewer district" even with the added students. Others were concerned with the problems associated with more vehicle traffic, at which point they were assured that parking garages and increased mass transit on campus would alleviate those problems.
But others said the perceived problem of students living off campus, many in illegal boarding houses, illegal accessory apartments, and overcrowded rental homes, has got them worried.
Former civic association president Herb Mones described the resulting problem as "essentially some very entrepreneurial or exploitive individuals who are turning these homes into large rooming homes and making substantial profits out of that" – not unlike in Stony Brook.
One resident, who described himself as a 41-year resident who lives near the university's P Lot, said he assumed students have been renting homes and rooms in the community for that entire 41-year period but has "never seen anything quite like what’s happening now."
"I think the university could help us ... if they're willing to," the resident said.
"We are," Chernow replied.
However, students living off campus is not something that the university can control – at that point they are considered commuter students. Roughly half the population of Stony Brook students are commuters.
According to Brookhaven's town code, renting rooms in one's home is illegal, and accessory apartments and rental houses must have certificates of occupancy. The town provides a service on its website whereby people can search for legal rentals; there are hundreds listed in a database searchable by hamlet and street name.
Stony Brook's Off Campus Housing website provides this disclaimer: "... The fact that any listing is on this site does not imply that FSA [Faculty Student Association] or the University has researched and/or confirmed that the prospective housing is in a legal apartment and/or free of any liens and/or any encumbrances by any governing municipality and/or authority. In this regard, it is recommended that any potential tenant contact the Town in which the listing resides."
Additionally, a website called Stony Brook China advocates parents of foreign students buying homes in the community for not only their children's housing needs but for investment as well. Its website reads: "Parents of students going to American colleges find it is smart to purchase a residence near the college their child is attending, especially graduate students. It becomes a long term investment, it gives the student a place to live, it provides income by having the extra rooms rented to other students."
Another website, called ULoop.com – also not affiliated with Stony Brook – purports to make students' search for housing easy. "Let us guide your SBU off campus housing search for apartments for rent, houses for rent, and college roommates near Stony Brook," it reads, and lists rooms for rent and apartments and houses to share by university. A Stony Brook spokeswoman said in an email to Patch in January that ULoop "is not connected in any way to Stony Brook University."
The new undergraduate residence halls will mostly be built in several phases over the next four to five years near Stony Brook's Long Island Rail Road station on Route 25A on existing university property, and will tie in to in the areas around the train station.
"The design [for the dormitories] is complete. We’re about to move to construction for the first phase," Chernow said.