MSA focuses on renter’s survey

It would publish student ratings of landlords and properties.

by Tyler Gieseke

The Minnesota Student Association will focus on addressing student housing issues this school year by redeveloping its student renter survey.

The survey, which hasn’t been published for the past two years, would aggregate data about landlords, locations and safety of properties around campus.

It is a concrete way to help the student body assess potential housing options, said Mick Hedberg, co-chair of MSA’s Facilities, Housing and Transit committee.

MSA originally developed the survey in response to a house fire in which several students died, said John Worden, former FHT committee chair. Survey results were published to help identify troubled houses, he said.

The survey has undergone several major changes since its inception just under a decade ago.

Worden said he was instrumental in moving the survey from a paper publication to an Internet resource.

“Students respond much better to the click-of-a-button interface,” he said, adding that maintaining a paper version is more resource-intensive.

Human resource development senior Kellan Johnson said he found the house he rents in Southeast Como on Craigslist. For him, most of what goes into the decision regarding which house to buy is location and price, he said.

Though he hadn’t heard of the renter’s survey, he said he would use the service “if it was easily accessible.”

This reorganization of the renter’s survey occurred after the Office of Measurement Services server holding survey data crashed, current FHT Co-Chair Phill Kelly said.

Worden said he worked with OMS to develop the survey so students could take it online. He said he wasn’t able to finalize the output portion of it before being called away to military training for the National Guard.

Kelly continued Worden’s work with OMS to try and solidify a way to distribute the survey data online to students but said it was clear that “OMS didn’t deliver the kind of platform we wanted” for students to easily access information online.

To make the survey accessible to students and to institutionalize it long term, Kelly searched for a private company to offer the survey data online.

The private company he contacted to create the searchable database said it would cost $50,000 to $75,000 — a price far out of MSA’s range even with potential contributions from the University Student Legal Service and the Office for Student Affairs, Kelly said.

In contrast, Kelly said, MSA had budgeted about $3,500 in 2011-12 for providing output for the survey data.

He said he’s now looking to put together a simplified version of the survey to use through Google Consumer Surveys or another open-source survey platform.

This option would be a temporary solution just to get the renter’s survey going again, Kelly said. Though FHT collected data online for the survey last year, it wasn’t made available to students because of these issues.

“In the end, hopefully we can find a company that can do it for an affordable cost and provide some long-term continuity and reliability,” he said.