Hawes guides students to off-Grounds housing
New office provides information, advice for renters
Photo by Dan Addison
|Vicki Hawes (left) and a student review a map of available student housing in the community.
By Matt Kelly
To Vicki L. Hawes, the Off-Grounds Housing Office is an extension of the University’s mission to educate.
Office manager Hawes runs a clearinghouse of information for students and serves as the University’s face to local landlords and the community where off-Grounds housing is concerned. Hawes provides advice about leases, roommates and personal safety to students contemplating a move off Grounds. She urges students to use Student Legal Services to review leases and has held property fairs for landlords and prospective renters.
“The bulk of this is educating the students on what it means to be part of a larger community,” Hawes said.
She has been a staunch advocate of the Tenants Bill of Rights, a student initiative drafted by recent graduates Marisa Nelson and Greg Moore while they were still students. It spells out what is required under Virginia’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Act and applies to landlords renting more than 10 units. Part of the bill is a clause that allows students to withdraw from a lease with no penalty if the unit is not habitable two weeks before school begins. Reviewed by a University advisory council and representatives of the Blue Ridge Apartment Council, which represents many local landlords and property managers, Hawes said the bill of rights has been modified, approved by the Student Council and posted on its Web site. “We want to make it as workable for the students and the landlords as possible,” she said.
The bill is important because students “need to know their rights as consumers,” she said.
So far, about 90 percent of her work has been dealing with first-year students seeking off-Grounds housing for their second year of college. “Most students have no idea” what is involved with living off Grounds, she said.
Student Council created the off-Grounds housing office, which opened on July 26, 2004. Hawes’ salary is paid through student activities fees; the University pays for her benefits and office space and a grant from the Parents’ Fund paid for the office furnishings.
The office acts as an advocate for students in the housing market, which former Student Council President Noah P. Sullivan, who graduated this year, said has been missing for a long time. He described housing as “one of the biggest student-life issues facing the University.”
Before creation of the office, Sullivan said that students did not have enough information about local housing to make a year-long commitment, and they felt pressure to sign leases well in advance of moving in.
Hawes “is excellent to have as a referral for parents, students, anybody interested in off-Grounds housing,” said Mark S. Doherty, chief housing officer for on-Grounds housing. “She is a positive asset for the University, and there is a good partnership and relationship between our two offices.”
In most years, there are 6,313 assignable beds in on-Grounds housing, said Cole Spencer, assistant director for accommodations. First-year students are required to live on Grounds and generally take up about 3,100 assignable beds. About 1,500 second-year, 900 third-year and 700 fourth-year students live on Grounds, according to Spencer.
Many students want to live on their own, away from the restrictions of living in the dorms, Hawes said, estimating that about 65 percent of undergraduates live off Grounds.
Hawes set up a Web site with Off Campus Partners, which had created a software platform for apartment listings. The University has worked out a partnership with the City of Charlottesville, funding a property maintenance inspector for the city who will focus primarily on student housing areas. The two-year pilot project will cost the University about $115,000 for the inspector, who will report to the city, as well as his computer and vehicle. Hawes meets monthly with the inspector to keep track of local housing stock.
The current housing market is “soft,” she said. Open units still exist, and new units are being built.
Rents in town range from $350 to $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, with an average of $450 to $500. Despite the range in costs for off-Grounds housing, Hawes said for most students it would be cheaper to stay on Grounds, though there is no room for the entire student population to live in dorms. New housing units will stay ahead of the planned expansion of the student body by about 100 students a year, Hawes said.
Hawes’ has been both a tenant and a landlord. She came to Charlottesville in 1977 to work at Sperry Marine, and spent 11 years in manufacturing. In 1990, she started Albemarle Courier, the business she sold when she took the job with the University. A tenant when she first moved to town, she became a homeowner in 1986 and bought two rental houses in 1989 and 1990. She sold them to the tenants in 2004. She also has served as the president of the Jefferson Park Area Neighborhood Association and as a fellow at Hereford College.
“We have a great bunch of students,” she said. “We all want what is best for [them] and for the Charlottesville Community.”