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H.O.M.E. will serve as a virtual series that gathers local resources and organizations to help students with their housing and roommate search

H.O.M.E. month will provide students with resources to help students learn everything they need to know about living and moving off-campus beginning Feb 4, 2021. For more information visit Western’s Off Campus Living website for dates and times. // Courtesy of Julia Burns, Program Manager of WWU Off-Campus Living

By Hannah Cross

In January, Western Washington University’s Off Campus Living announced that it will be hosting H.O.M.E. month beginning Feb. 1.

So, what is H.O.M.E. month, and what should students know about it?

Western’s Off Campus Living Program Manager Julia Burns said H.O.M.E. stands for “Helping Out with Moving Essentials” and will serve as a virtual series which will lead up to the virtual housing fair on March 4.

“We have partnered with [Rent] College Pads to provide students with access to the many Bellingham housing resources, as well as giving students the chance to talk face to face with landlords in the area,” she said. 

Chief Marketing Officer of Rent College Pads Jeremy Schmidt said the organization partnered with Western’s Off Campus Living to provide Western students with a housing service that focuses on specific campus communities. Schmidt said their goal is to make student housing searches more efficient by grouping all relevant information on one site.

“We are excited about our partnership with Western because their Off Campus Living department is a solid group that has a passion for their community and is very involved in the process,” he said. 

Rent College Pads will also be assisting Western’s Off Campus Living in creating and hosting the virtual housing fair in March. Schmidt said the virtual fair will serve as a housing workshop for students to ask questions and engage in live chats with local landlords. 

H.O.M.E. month will consist of six virtual meetings, each addressing different student concerns and providing access to resources that can help.

“We will begin the series on Feb. 4 at 4 p.m. with the first event, ‘Ready, Set, Rent! Starting Your Housing Search,’ which will give students access to resources that aid in roommate searches as well as determining roommate compatibility,” Burns said.

Burns said if students need help signing up for the events and access to the dates and times they are occurring, they can look at Western’s Off Campus Living website, where all the links to the events and their Zoom sessions are provided.

The virtual events will continue in order every Thursday of the month with some events being held Tuesdays. The second event, the “Roommate Speed Date” on Feb. 9, will give students the opportunity to meet potential roommates.

“It can be difficult to make friends and meet new students as we remain isolated from one another,” Burns said. “So this event will provide a fun and relaxed environment for students to make connections as they search for roommates.” 

The third event, “Resolving Conflicts with Roommates,” will be run by the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center on Feb. 11. Burns said this event is intended to provide students with help in resolving current conflicts and to equip them with skills to handle future conflicts in a productive way.

“A lot of students have talked to me about their COVID[-19] comfort levels, and in some cases, their roommates are ignoring those comfort levels and throwing parties and such,” Burns said. “So this free resource will provide students with a chance to seek mediation in their conflicts.” 

Mediation Program Manager of the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center (WDRC) Gayle LaCroix said their role in this event is to help students acknowledge the challenges of living with roommates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Living with roommates can get complex, which can make it hard to assert yourselves,” LaCroix said. “We want to normalize conflict, to remind students that it is normal and an opportunity to share your perspectives and be heard.”

LaCroix also said the WDRC has participated in this and similar events for Western before and they are excited to provide students with access to resources they may not have known about. The City of Bellingham will host the fourth event that focuses on tenants’ rights on Feb. 18.

Burns said the City of Bellingham will address Fair Housing and discrimination laws which inform students of their rights as renters and prevents them from being discriminated against based on age, gender, sexual orientation or ability. 

“They will also touch on lesser-known issues such as tenant rights with emotional support animals,” Burns said. “Some landlords will try to treat them as a pet, but you do have different rights with animals that are emotional support providers.”

City of Bellingham Development Specialist Kate Bartholomew said the most common problem with off-campus student housing is when students are rented low-quality housing. She said there have been several cases of landlords taking advantage of first-time tenants by renting housing that is in pretty bad condition.

Bartholomew said if students are not aware of their rights under Fair Housing they can be misled when it comes to signing the lease. “For many students, this is their first experience signing a lease, and there is a lot to learn about the process,” she said. 

As a member of the Whatcom Housing Alliance Steering Committee, Bartholomew said she has addressed a wide spectrum of housing related issues from student tenants across the city. She also said another common issue is that students lack knowledge of local resources intended to help. 

“I think that is the most important thing for students to realize, is that there are all these different resources just waiting to help them,” Bartholomew said. “They just need to reach out.” 

The Law Advocates of Washington will be hosting the fifth event Feb. 23, which will cover leasing, depositing, repairs and tenants’ rights. This event will cover what landlords can and cannot do, as well as provide updated information on student tenants’ rights under the eviction moratorium. 

“The City of Bellingham passed a renter protection ordinance, which requires landlords to give 60 days notice to raise rent more than 10% or to terminate a month-to-month lease,” Bartholomew said. “Students will be able to educate themselves on all these rights that they have under city, state or federal law.”

The final virtual event held Feb. 25, “Be a Great Neighbor,” will provide students with examples of how they can be courteous neighbors in Bellingham and future housing arrangements. Burns said this does not mean Western students have been uncourteous tenants, but just a way to refresh students on courteous habits.

“We will cover things such as how to sort your garbage, how and where to park, how to protect bikes from bike theft and general Bellingham noise laws so that students are better aware of the expectations,” Burns said. 

Fourth-year Western student Kendra Baker said she started as a peer advisor for Off Campus Living three months ago because of the ways the staff and community have reached out to help students like herself. This year’s H.O.M.E. month will be her first big event with Off Campus Living as a peer advisor, and Baker said she is excited to help students with the staff and community that has helped her in the past.

Although Baker has been living off-campus for three years, she said she continues to engage with and learn new things from events such as H.O.M.E. because it keeps her educated on her housing options and rights.

“Students should know that anyone can benefit from H.O.M.E. month,” Baker said. “Even if you already live off-campus or don’t plan to move off-campus, this is helpful adulting and life knowledge.”

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