Housing down payment causes financial hardship for students

Living on campus can provide a plethora of opportunities for both first-time freshmen and upperclassmen alike. Social development, health and wellness and convenience are only a few of the benefits. However, for students at Sonoma State University, securing a spot to live on campus can sometimes be a nightmare due to the $400 down payment required by Housing Services prior the start of the academic year, when financial aid hasn’t been disbursed.

“Four-hundred dollars can be somebody’s entire paycheck for the month,” said Rosemarie Keene, a junior transfer student who, with her friend, Briana Taggart has created an Associated Students resolution to address the difficulties many students endure when making the down payment without financial aid.

The resolution calls for a $200 reduction to the original $400 down payment. The remaining $200 would be deferred until the fall semester when financial aid is disbursed.
Keene, a member of the Education Opportunity Program, says her experience paying the $400 is what motivated her to write the resolution.

“Figuring out how I was going to pay the down-payment and [buy] food for the month caused me a lot of stress and anxiety,” said Keene. “I don’t think our students need to feel like that.”

According to the resolution, there are currently 3,555 Sonoma State students who have a yearly estimated family contribution ranging from $0 to $5,198, which qualifies them as financially disadvantaged.

Although the resolution originally called for a $200 reduction only for students who are financially disadvantaged, it has been revised to include all students, regardless of financial conditions.

The resolution states the housing down payment was implemented in 2008 with the purpose of ensuring students would have a higher commitment towards the housing space they applied for.

The Housing Services website explains by making the $400 down payment, students are making themselves eligible for a housing offer. The website also states that every student, regardless of financial situation, must pay the $400.

Although there is a payment plan available for students who do not possess the means to pay the $400, according to the resolution, only nine students have taken advantage of this resource this academic year. This, according to Keene, is mainly due to poor advertising techniques by housing services.

Davin Polchow, freshman and an EOP student, said he decided to become involved with the resolution because he didn’t agree with the reasoning behind the down payment requirement.

“There are so many students waiting for on-campus housing that if a student leaves it would not make a difference,” said Polchow. “It would just make a space for the next person on the waiting list.”

Nicole Hendry, director of housing services, declined to comment on this matter.

In the resolution, it’s acknowledged that socioeconomic status is often associated with race and/or ethnicity, meaning that requiring disadvantage students to pay such a high housing down payment can be counterintuitive to Sonoma State’s mission.
Polchow, who made the housing down-payment for the 2016/17 school year, has decided to decline his on-campus housing offer because he found cheaper options off campus. He received a 50 percent refund.

“They bring us in as EOP students saying [the university] is all about community,” said Polchow. “But at the end of the day, I feel it is more about the money than helping students succeed.”

On April 29, the Associated Students Senate postponed hearings for the resolution until the fall semester.

Although the fall semesterwill bring a new Associated Students Senate, there are at least two senators who will be serving a second, consecutive term. If the senate decides to approve the resolution, it will then be moved to the hands of new president, Judy K. Sakaki for her review.