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NYU Affordability Plans Include Housing Students in 'Grandma's Spare Room'

 The NYU Board of Trustees is considering divesting from fossil fuels.
The NYU Board of Trustees is considering divesting from fossil fuels.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

GREENWICH VILLAGE — A task force convened to come up with ways to make New York University more affordable for students released a series of ideas, including housing students with elderly New Yorkers.

The idea — dubbed "Grandma's spare room" by The Guardian — aims to cut students' housing costs "perhaps in half," said Ellen Schall, the NYU professor appointed to spearhead the task force.

"It's not only for Grandmas," Schall said. "The notion is that there are people in New York who have spare bedrooms — maybe their kids moved out — and they could also use a little extra income and would like having a student live with them."

The idea was first reported by the New York Post.

Schall likened the idea to homestays that students do when they study abroad in places like Florence and Paris.

"There are students who might find a homestay option in New York City interesting," she said.

Schall was careful to note that it's still just an idea, not a fully fleshed-out program.

"We're exploring [it] with University Settlement as our community partner," she said. 

University Settlement, a longstanding social services organization based on the Lower East Side, is "in conversation" with some of the senior homes they work with, "looking to see" if residents might have any interest in cohabitating with students.

"They have a couple of ideas," Schall said. "We haven't identified one for sure yet."

They "haven't worked out the financial mechanicals" yet, Schall said, but she estimated the cost to students would be "probably $5,000 for the academic year," paid per semester, "not necessarily annual."

Incoming freshman would not be eligible for the program. 

"We would start with graduate students and juniors and seniors," she said.

The goal is to work out the details of the program to hopefully begin implementing it in autumn of 2017, Schall said.

The senior-student housing plan is just one of 15 ideas from a report Schall's task force presented to NYU President Andrew Hamilton in October, and subsequently posted on the website Medium.

The report was compiled after a "huge community engagement" in the spring, which brought in more than 1,000 ideas and suggestions from the NYU community, Schall said. 

Some of the ideas are already in progress, such as encouraging professors to source reading materials online when compiling syllabi, and coordinating with the university bookshop to stock used books at the lowest prices available, as well as increasing free shuttles that carry students back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan, to cut down on transportation costs.

Schall said shuttle service has already increased threefold, and "the bookstore's working very actively with us."

Some changes will occur gradually, such as decreasing the university's use of temp workers, and instead making those positions available as student jobs.

Other ideas, like the housing initiative and a lower-cost dining plan, would start in fall 2017.

And others still will require the help of external forces.

"We are looking at some policy changes in conversation with Sen. [Chuck] Schumer about whether there might be a subsidy on the MetroCard [for students]," she said. 

"We're just trying to maximize all the different opportunities," Schall added. "The notion is that we're looking for ways to make NYU affordable for more students."