Housing at UWI – where do you turn?

This post is about homelessness. No, scratch that. It’s about finding a home. Not the metaphorical place where your heart is, just a roof and two walls where you will be (relatively) safe and sheltered.

In some ways I have so much experience figuring out where to live and in some ways I have none at all. It depends on who you talk to. Whatever amount of advice I have I’ll be dispensing here, and you can use it as you see fit. Just to be clear, this is about finding college accommodations for students specifically for limited time periods, though I suppose my methods could be applied to more grown up living needs as well. You’ll see for yourself.

Real estate is such a scary topic. At least it was for me. And I guess it’s scary for any high school graduate who has decided to leave home and pursue the university dream but who (gosh darnit) just couldn’t get on hall. More on that in a second. I like to break down scary topics into smaller steps. Bite-sized chunks like

  • Options
  • Where to go for help and
  • How to do it on your own

Your two most obvious options for housing when you’re a university student are, of course: on campus and off campus. As cool and exciting as hall life seems, the reality is that only a small percentage of university students actually live there. The majority commute from home or other places either by choice or because they couldn’t afford the fees/got kicked off hall.

UWI (it’s always UWI on this blog, sorry UTECH) has so many halls of residence. And they keep adding more. The quick and dirty list in order of awesomeness (uh, personal preference? More detailed assessment will probably follow when I muster up the research effort):

  • New Postgrad (Marlene Hamilton Hall)
  • Towers (Elsa Leo Rhynie Hall)
  • Mary Seacole
  • A. Z. Preston
  • Rex Nettleford
  • Taylor, Irvine, Chancellor

That’s eight (well seven, MSH and Chancellor are gender-specific) fantastic moderately livable places to choose from all within walking distance of your 8AM and 6PM classes.

There are many advantages to living on hall. It’s also a lot safer to get used to an unfamiliar city when “home” is somewhere that it matters to people when you don’t show up.


But for the rest of us who love jumping in and getting our feet wet, who get a thrill from adult-type independence, there is the off campus route.  Be the master of your own affairs! Pay those bills! Cook those meals! And yes, invite whoever the hell you want to invite over for however long you want (subject to the terms set out by your landlord/lady).

For those of us thinking about living off campus, this is where you start.

The UWI Lodgings Office

I cannot stress how helpful this place is. It took some warming up to their methods (and you better not be in a rush) but they’re great at matching you to a place that fits your budget. Added bonus: they vet all the accommodations that they recommend to students. They’re big on location, so they won’t drop you somewhere in the middle of Tavern Drive or Mona Commons without warning. You’re far more likely to find a Mona Heights address if you go this route (whether or not this is up your alley).

Flyers, Flyers everywhere.

Read the noticeboards. All of them. All the time. I have gotten so good at this that Kat takes a firm grip on my elbow whenever we pass one, just so that I won’t slow down. Seriously. There’s always some place for rent. Also? Know your crowd. The apartments advertising at the Faculty of Medicine are not the same as the ones advertised in the Faculty of Humanities.

Google is Your Friend

Once upon a time I used to think that nothing we ever did in Jamaica was easy to find on the internet. I still think that, for the most part, but a lot of the time I am pleasantly surprised. Don’t be shy about searching the websites of real estate agencies for rentals you want. Something might be out there. Pitch in with a friend or two and rent a fully furnished house. (They are not all heart attackingly expensive). Real estate agents do open houses on Youtube now. It’s a brave new world out there, kids.

Useful Websites:

Know Your Own Mind

Before you go house-hunting it’s good to have a list of questions to ask your prospective landlord/lady. Simple stuff like whether bills are included in the rent, if there are frequent water or power outages in the area, if there is wifi, if they have any rules for tenants (most will). Think about your own lifestyle and what you can and cannot put up with.

Just Go For It

The way to feel like you actually know what you’re doing is just to do it. Call the number on the ad, go to the places you want to see, ask questions, take pictures, consult with everyone you know. For every 20 places you inquire about at least one might be sublimely perfect for you in a way you will probably appreciate more when you have been house-hunting for nearly two years. Or maybe they will all suck. But either way you’re getting knowledge that is pretty much invaluable to you as an adult.

Because that’s what you are now: a rent paying, meal-cooking, house-hunting adult. So go out there are be wonderfully, smashingly, amazingly terrible at it.

Breaking all the rules: a guide to skipping out your (hall) orientation

You’re only allowed to wear black and white; no open-toed shoes or jewellery; no cell phones or room keys. Sounds like a night in jail? Nah, that’s just orientation on a hall in Mona.

I’m not going to delve into the details of the highly suspect tradition because it might reveal the identity of my completely anonymous source. Instead, using information gleaned from this top-secret interview I’m going to give you all the tips and tricks for avoiding your orientation process.

Budge over, there. Keep moving!

1. Show up a week and half late for orientation.

By then all the first years would have been known to the hall seniors and you will appear more like a returning student. No one will pay any attention to you (especially if you don’t have a roommate). Don’t have a roommate.

2. Express little to no interest in receiving a hall name.

The hall name is a symbol of your enslavement to the man woman. By this appellation you will be known to all the hall seniors and they will be able to call you by name when they’re rounding up the other victims first years. Not having one is like not having a TRN, you’re essentially off the radar.

3. Spend most of your time off the hall.

Go the library. Hang out with your friends from other halls (breaking a major rule of orientation). Spend your nights elsewhere. This will guarantee you plausible deniability. You weren’t just absent from orientation activities, you didn’t even know about them.

4. When you do go to activities, act dumb.

Put on your most innocent face when you’re caught mumbling the words to the Hall Song. Respond to all their inquiries with “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know that. I’m new here, you see.” You can do this every time they catch you. Since you won’t be around much (see Tip #3), it’s almost guaranteed that you can pull this trick on a different person every time.

5. Ask the first years how it’s going.

Be sympathetic to their complaints, like an older sister. They’ll stop seeing you as one of them (if they ever did) and start seeing you as a special breed of senior. One who doesn’t know as much as the other seniors, but who has to be a senior because you don’t participate in any first year stuff.

6. Talk to the security guards.

They will tell you everything you need to know, and there’s no senior being suspicious because you don’t know the proper procedure for putting a notice up.

7. Realize that you can fool everyone except the seniors.

The third years especially will already know everyone on hall. But as a new face that they haven’t seen in orientation activities, the hall committee members might be a little more likely to cut you some slack. Don’t count on it though.

8. Be nice to everyone, unless you don’t plan to return next year.

If you’re planning to apply for space on hall next year, then skipping out on your orientation will be a big strike against you. You can remedy this by being polite to everyone you talk to. And by participating in (voluntary) hall activities. On a hall which is fairly small you can get noticed pretty easily, though not necessarily in a good way.

Disclaimer: If you’re a first year university student, hall orientation is an excellent way to make friends and get to know the people you’ll be living with. I highly recommend going through with it.

But if you’re knee-deep in a university programme and only living on hall for the first time, then I highly recommend skipping out on it.

Read Robin is a professional bad decision maker, and old hat at doing the wrong thing. Stay tuned for more tips on What Not to Do to Survive your Third Year of Medical School.