Online service helps U students find close housing

The Web site finds housing within two miles of the University.

Kevin McCahill

Like many things in life, a new business venture was prompted by frustration.

Housing studies senior Ali Nkosi and University alumnus Steve Nson started their housing Web site in February 2005 while they were searching in vain for a place to live. The two came to realize there is a niche market in an online service directed toward college students, and Mycollegehousing.com was born.

“It came out of our own frustration,” he said. “There is housing (online), but it’s not listed in an efficient way.”

The site is designed for use by University students or those interested in living near campus.

Currently working only on the University’s Twin Cities campus, the group wants to expand the site across the Big Ten.

Nson said they plan to work with smaller apartments and single houses; they started with larger student apartments – such as University Village, which they still are working with.

“From an initial standpoint, having the bigger guys makes things easier to work with the smaller guys,” Nson said. “As soon as we establish ourselves the way we want to, we’ll expand.”

The site focuses on housing availability within a two-mile radius of the University.

“Students many times don’t have cars,” said political science and Spanish junior Sam Haffar, who works on the site. “They don’t have the accessibility to go to other places.”

The site is focused on the University for now, but Haffar said it is planned to spread throughout schools in the state and hopefully the country.

Nkosi said the site is meant to reach the specific audience of students.

“There are 16 million college students in the U.S.,” he said. “We know there is a high off-campus rental population.”

Along with University Village, which is listed on the site, Haffar said three other companies are in discussion.

“We are trying to start off by word of mouth and then hoping to grow from there,” Haffar said.

Lorien Mueller, community manager at University Village, signed onto with the Web site because of its college focus.

“What we’ve been finding is that, more and more, prospective tenants are using online searches,” she said.

Mueller said she would like to see the site look at other college communities so that graduate or transfer students can see housing options in other areas.

The students are competing with larger companies such as Rent.com, but Haffar said, because the site focuses on universities, it targets a unique market.

“There is a high demand and a need for this,” Haffar said.

The group also sent out surveys that they said showed students wanted more housing choices online.

“After a student chooses the school, they next thing is finding a place to live,” Nson said. “There are other online services, but they aren’t directed to students.”

Students can enroll for free on the site, and Haffar said about 200 people already are members.

The site also has a referral service. If students say they used the site when they sign a lease, the student gets $100 – which comes from the Web site, which sometimes can be reimbursed by the landlords.

Lindsey Gunstad is a property manager for Riverton Community Housing, a nonprofit company that manages the Chateau Student Housing Cooperative, among others.

Gunstad said she uses online housing sites such as rent.com and has used smaller online sites before, but that they brought in fewer results.

“With a smaller circulation, it’s sometimes hard to get information out to people,” she said. “But we’re always willing to try something new.”