ACT helps students find high-quality housing

News Reporter

Students can now have protection and assistance when finding off-campus living in communities that are friendly, safe and affordable.

Achieving Community Together (ACT) is a collaboration between Texas State and the people of San Marcos that aims to hold housing communities to a high standard of maintenance and management, according to the city’s website.

The program started primarily for the benefit of permanent residents but later expanded to meet students’ needs, said Joslyn Johnson, community engagement coordinator. Educating students on how to move off-campus, as well as making sure apartment complexes meet standards similar to those of on-campus housing, are some of the benefits ACT offers.

ACT originated as a police problem-solving effort to reduce noise complaints from the residents of the San Marcos community in 2007. The initiative was headed by Lisa Dvorak, then the Assistant Police Chief, who is now the Community Liaison for the City of San Marcos.

“Noise complaints were the number one call we received in 2007 with 2,833 calls, mostly from other students,” Dvorak said.

Noise-prevention efforts led to the uncovering of numerous problems associated with Texas State students living off campus, including roommate conflicts and lease manager disagreements, Dvorak said.

ACT became a partnership with Texas State through Joanne Smith, vice president of Student Affairs, and through Off-Campus Student Services (OCSS).

The majority of the organization’s efforts are now directed at educating students and their parents on signing leases, Dvorak said.

“We’ve seen some miscommunication between students and leasing agents,” Dvorak said. “Signing a bad lease can ruin your credit for seven years or more.”

When students and their guarantors, who are normally their parents, go in to sign a lease, they need to know what is expected of them, Dvorak said.

“Student housing is an industry term for rent-by-the-bed leasing,” Dvorak said.

Parents are usually only aware of conventional leases, but leasing rules have changed, Dvorak said.

“We had a particular grandmother who thought she was just signing for her grandson, but she ended up owing $22,000 for him and his roommates,” Dvorak said.

Leasing problems have led to a focus on building partnerships between parents, students, the university and the ACT Ally community “where everyone wins,” Dvorak said.

Apartment complexes that have a partnership with ACT pay annual dues and are held to a “high standard” of maintenance and management, said Sean Olmstead, graduate research assistant. In return, the complexes get access to campus resources like The Quad and the annual Student Housing Fair every February as well as marketing advantages that come with the ACT Ally title, Olmstead said.

“If they’re part of the program, you know that they are held up to a higher standard than complexes that aren’t,” Johnson said.

ACT has been successful in its original goal of reducing noise complaints, Dvorak said.

“(Success) is through education, not police action,” Dvorak said.

Noise complaints have been reduced 27 percent since 2007, while arrests due to noise complaints have fallen 69 percent, Dvorak said.

“You will not find an organization formulated like this one anywhere else in the country,” Dvorak said.

ACT is an expanding program and has developed a lot in the past year, Olmstead said.

“We’re trying to let everyone know that there is a serious organization that offers this service,” Olmstead said.