Housing Policy

September 17, 2008

  

Dear Colleagues:

 

I am writing to discuss the current state of University housing, which I know is a matter of great concern to many people at Columbia.  I have spent more time working on faculty housing than almost any other issue I have encountered during my tenure as provost, and I recognize the vital importance of this task. 

 

I apologize for the length of this letter, but it is very important that everyone understand clearly the policies and programs that govern housing, and the steps we are taking to try to improve our ability to house our faculty appropriately.  In this letter, I want to inform (or remind) you of our pilot housing assistance program, which was originally scheduled to end on June 30, 2008, but which has now been extended, and to describe changes in the procedures governing retiree housing beginning July 1, 2009.

 

The University currently owns nearly 7,000 units, of which about 30% are reserved for faculty and other officers; the rest are allocated to graduate students.  Columbia remains committed to providing its faculty and students with access to affordable housing, but the current housing climate in New York City has made it very difficult to accommodate all of the requests that we receive.  New York has become a more attractive place to live and raise families; the real estate market has become very expensive in the last decade, pushing more of our faculty into University housing; and the size of the faculty has continued to grow.  As a result, we are experiencing enormous pressure on our existing housing stock and are finding it increasingly difficult to meet demand.

 

Success in faculty recruitment and retention requires that the University take steps to address the problem.  No single action or set of actions will solve it.  A permanent, sustainable solution requires that steps be taken both to increase supply and reduce demand.

 Pilot Housing Assistance Program 

I am extending the pilot housing assistance program through June 30, 2010.  In the eighteen months since the program was launched, over 30 incoming and continuing faculty have signed contracts to purchase housing units.  This level of interest demonstrates that there are faculty for whom ownership is attractive and feasible, and we want to continue to support this group.  We will monitor the program during the extended pilot period and a decision on continuation beyond June 2010 will be made prior to the scheduled expiration date.

 

There are several options under which a housing-eligible faculty member can be considered for participation in the program.  All newly-recruited, housing-eligible faculty whom deans would otherwise recommend for assignment of an apartment within the Columbia housing stock must also be offered the opportunity to participate in the housing assistance program.  Deans may also recommend for participation in the program faculty whom the schools seek to retain in the face of outside offers.  Deans can, at their discretion, also recommend other faculty for the program.  It would be most advantageous to do so for faculty who are currently residing in our larger apartments (two bedrooms plus a maid’s bedroom or larger).

 

Those who enter the program will receive an initial payment of $40,000 to help pay for associated costs such as acquiring a mortgage, moving, or providing a down payment.  The University has created a relationship with several private lenders who may be able to offer mortgages at favorable rates.  Once participants have moved into non-Columbia housing, they will receive an annual housing subsidy ($40,000 for tenured faculty, $22,000 for nontenured faculty), which will continue until they leave the University or until three years after their retirement.

 Clarification of and Changes in Retiree Housing Policy 

Our retiree housing policy has had a complicated history and remains somewhat ambiguous.   We feel that this is the time both to clarify and amend our current policies.

1. The following two groups of retirees are governed by University housing policies established in the 1980s as described below.  We will continue to honor these policies:

(a)  Those who signed leases with effective dates before July 1, 1984, regardless of the type and duration of their position at the University prior to retirement, are permitted to remain in University housing after retirement and may remain in the apartment in which they reside throughout their lifetimes, so long as it remains their primary residence, as determined by Columbia University Facilities.  Spouses and same-sex domestic partners of these retirees receive the same benefit.

(b)  Those who signed leases with effective dates between July 1, 1984 and June 30, 1989, and who, at the time of retirement, are full-time tenured faculty or will have completed at least fifteen years of full-time continuous employment in another capacity within the University are permitted to remain in University housing and may remain in the apartment in which they reside throughout their lifetimes, so long as the apartment continues to be their primary residence, as determined by Columbia University Facilities.  Spouses and same-sex domestic partners of these retirees also receive the same benefit.

2.  For full-time tenured faculty, and some others as noted below, with signed leases with effective dates between July 1, 1989 and June 30, 2009, the policy for retirement is as follows:  People in this cohort are eligible for continued tenancy in Columbia housing throughout their lifetimes under certain circumstances.  They can remain in their current apartments for at least three years after retiring.  The University can, however, require that they move into smaller University apartments at any point after retirement.  Those who agree to move to smaller units when requested may remain in those units throughout their lifetimes.  Their spouses or same-sex domestic partners will enjoy the same privileges for the remainder of their lifetimes.  These privileges are contingent upon the apartments remaining the primary residence of the tenants or their surviving spouses or same-sex domestic partners.  Those who refuse to accept a smaller unit when requested will not be eligible to remain in University housing for more than three years after retirement; those who have already resided in their apartment for more than three years after retirement who decline to transfer will be given a reasonable period within which to vacate University housing.  While the University seeks to accommodate the desires of retirees who are asked to transfer, the supply of housing at the time of the request to move will determine the location and size of any new apartment they may be offered.  Qualified tenants who already occupy small units, as determined by Columbia University Facilities, will be considered to have met the transfer requirement so long as those apartments remain their primary residence.

The following three groups are guaranteed continued housing at Columbia under the terms outlined in Item 2 above:

(a)  All full-time faculty with signed leases with effective dates between July 1, 1989, and June 30, 2009, who hold tenured appointments in the University as of June 30, 2009.

(b)  All other employees with signed leases with effective dates between July 1, 1989, and June 30, 2009, who, as of June 30, 2009, will have been continuously employed at Columbia in a full-time capacity for at least fifteen years and who will have maintained continuous residency in Columbia housing for at least fifteen years as of that date.  Time spent as either a student or a postdoc does not count toward either of these requirements.

(c)  Retirees with signed leases with effective dates between July 1, 1989, and June 30, 2009, who, at the time of their retirement meet one of the conditions described in 2(a) or 2(b).

3.  Full-time professorial faculty, including those with modifiers other than “visiting” in their titles, who sign leases with effective dates as of July 1, 2009 or later will be permitted to remain in their apartments for three years after their retirement, as long as they remain their primary residences as determined by Columbia University Facilities.  After the three years, they will no longer be eligible to remain in University housing.  All other tenants are given a reasonable period of time within which to vacate their apartments following their retirement.  The three years of post-retirement housing eligibility for full-time professorial faculty with signed phased retirement agreements will commence on the date on which they fully retire. 

Those residing in University housing who retire on or after June 30, 2009, and who subsequently accept full-time employment outside of the University, Barnard College, or Teachers College must vacate University housing.

In all cases, University apartments must be the tenants’ primary residence, as determined by Columbia University Facilities, and tenants must comply with all terms of their leases in order to retain their eligibility for housing.

Other Initiatives

The University is taking additional steps to increase supply and manage demand.  We have purchased a new, high-end building -- the Arbor -- in south Riverdale and are beginning to offer the approximately 120 units in the building to faculty.  The Arbor is convenient to the No. 1 subway, will have shuttle bus service, and also can provide indoor parking for all tenants.  Assignment of these apartments will be phased in over several years to provide reserve capacity to meet future demand.  Columbia University Facilities will continue to consider opportunistic purchases of additional buildings and units, many of which will also be located in places other than Morningside Heights. 

 

The University is also developing a pilot effort to acquire apartments on the private market at favorable prices for sale to members of the faculty; access to this program will be determined in part by the desirability of the University apartment being vacated.  We will also continue to lease units in the private market when immediate demand exceeds current supply.

 

In addition to taking steps to increase supply, we are also working to manage demand.  Columbia University Facilities will begin sending annual mailings to tenants outlining obligations and responsibilities associated with eligibility for University housing.  It will be revising the annual rental renewal agreements to specify very clearly that the unit must be the faculty member’s primary residence as defined by Columbia University Facilities, and it will begin conducting a regular census of occupants to confirm that the tenants of record are the occupants of the unit and conform to the residency requirement.

 

Finally, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Alice Lesman as Housing Assistance Coordinator in the Office of Work Life in the Office of the Provost.  She will be based at 516 West 112th Street and will be available to assist deans and department chairs in their recruitment and retention efforts.  She will also work directly with faculty to help them understand the range of housing options at Columbia and in the New York metropolitan area.

 

Housing is a critical factor in our ability to recruit and retain faculty.  We must continue to improve the availability of housing and to try to serve as best as we can the needs of our faculty.  It will be difficult for the University to secure enough housing to meet the wishes of everyone, but we will continue to work on ways to meet the University’s needs.  We must also ensure that the housing that we have is managed in as fair a process as possible and that the future competitiveness of the institution is preserved.