With law school housing options slim, students are turning to the Concord community to accommodate them

When Teddy Miele started taking classes at the University of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce Law School, he lived just around the corner from Washington Street in Concord.

The apartment was not worth its rather high rent, he said. At the end of the year, he moved in search of a better option. That search brought him home to Massachusetts for the fall 2021 semester. Having nothing affordable at Concord, he took his classes online.

Then, in a UNH Law Facebook group, Miele saw a post for a student sublet in a Victorian house on Rumford Street that offers rooms for students. He moved into Arnie Arnesen’s house for the spring semester.

“The process has been frustrating, to say the least,” he said. “I was lucky when I saw the ad for Arnie’s house.”

Arnesen’s house is three houses in one. The first floor is an Airbnb rental, the second floor houses students from the University of New Hampshire Law School, and the third floor serves as Arnesen’s attic apartment.

It’s a puzzle of living together – exactly as Arnesen means it.

“I feel like my house is shrinking the world, one room at a time,” she said.

For years, Arnesen has hosted students from all over the world. Its rooms served as bridges to understand different cultures. She made an unfamiliar city and country feel like home, she said.

It also provides housing for law students at a time when the housing shortage is impacting enrollment decisions. With no official school-provided housing, students look to the Concord community for dormitory accommodation.

Or live?

A housing shortage in Concord is not a new narrative. With a rental vacancy of 0.3% in Merrimack County, apartments can seem nearly impossible to find.

Before the school year, Megan Carpenter, the law school dean, saw some students delay their acceptance for a year – the common reason: housing.

“Limited housing is not new to us, but it has gotten worse over the past two years,” she said. “This year, we faced serious challenges which, in some cases, deterred students from joining us.

The law school, located in Concord near White Park, has a small number of student houses. Typically, students rely on renting from the same group of owners each year.

The school has a partnership with Places4Students.com, which allows landlords to post available rooms, as well as students looking to sublet a room or advertise their need for a roommate.

But in recent years, Carpenter said a few landlords who were reliable tenants have sold their properties. For students moving to the Concord area for law school, it can be a blind leap of faith.

When Emily Bensadoun moved to Concord for school, she had never been to New Hampshire before. She packed her car with all the belongings that would suit her and drove from Tallahassee, Florida.

Bensadoun found his home on Facebook Marketplace. She had seen pictures online and convinced her landlord to give her two weeks to find roommates to fill the other rooms.

“I had to take it blindly,” she said. “You’re sort of settling in when it comes to housing here.”

Looking back, Bensadoun says she was lucky with her accommodation – the house is spacious and she found two other law students to live with her.

But the struggle to find a place, in addition to rising costs, does not entice students to come to school or to stay after graduation.

“It makes it difficult when there’s no accommodation,” she said. “How do you expect to live here if the most important thing is missing?”

This is exactly what Carpenter fears. In an aging state trying to retain a young workforce, law school offers a unique opportunity to attract new recruits.

“Law school can be an economic engine to keep educated young professionals in the state,” she said.

Especially at a time when the state faces a shortage of attorneys, there are jobs readily available for Franklin Pierce graduates.

“We are a very important economic engine for bringing in talented people and training them to be future attorneys at the New Hampshire State Bar,” she said.

Typically, some houses are passed on to law students, Bensadoun said. But as new class sizes increase, the number of students looking for accommodation has exceeded the number of rooms available for recent graduates.

In 2022, the school welcomed its largest class, with 143 residential students and 76 hybrid students enrolled. It is also the most diverse class the school has seen, positioning Franklin Pierce as the most diverse school in the University of New Hampshire system.

“As a law school, we help make New Hampshire better,” Carpenter said. “If we cannot provide the housing we need, as we make legal education accessible to more people and types of people, we must be able to provide the infrastructure to support the change that we want to see in our state”.

Bensadoun wants the school to directly provide accommodation facilities. She sees the development of social housing in Concord and wants the law school to undertake a similar project for its students or buy properties nearby.

The school has no such immediate plans, but Carpenter hopes developers will see an opportunity in law student housing.

Without enough student housing, the onus falls on the Concord community, Arnesen said. She wishes other Concord owners would consider hosting students in their spare rooms, as she has done.

“It’s important that if (the law school) doesn’t have a dorm, then we become their dorm,” she said.

Life on Rumford Street

Standing in a downstairs bedroom, Arnesen said if his walls could talk, they would have a lot to say.

“He would speak in many languages,” she said. “We had people from China; we had people from Norway.

As part of housing law students over the past decade, she has met people from all corners of the globe.

“I discovered their culture because I had no choice. And I also learned to reconcile my life and their life,” she said. “Some of them have been very far away, and I don’t know anything about them. I know they sleep here, and I know they go to school. And then some become like my children.

One such student is Taskeen Aman, who graduated from law school in May, who arrived in 2019 as an international student from Pakistan.

She found Arnesen’s house through word of mouth – a friend suggested she move into a vacant room. She emailed Arnesen from Pakistan to inquire. They spoke on the phone and Aman was convinced to move in.

“She’s not just a landlady; she became a tutor, a mentor and ultimately my friend,” she said.

Aman now calls Rumford Street her second home.

“The experience ended up being just beautiful,” she said.

The second floor of Arnesen’s house has four bedrooms to house the students. They have access to a shared bathroom and kitchen, as well as a living room.

She’s also decorated every inch of the house – from repurposing furniture from her late aunt to framing memorabilia from former politicians who have passed through the house. Its walls recall stories of people past and present. It reminds his students of the people who once occupied the space and how they too will add to the memory bank.

“It’s important that they know they have a home here, because I want them to take care of it as much as I care,” she said. “Therefore, you can’t treat them as if they’re just renting a room.”

She charges rent based on room size, but is also sensitive to a student’s income needs, so the price she sets for one guest may differ from another.

Opening his home is not new for Arnesen. Since her late husband Marty Capodice passed away from cancer in 2013, it served as a tribute and focus for her.

“In a way, I’m doing this for my husband, because my husband was such a social animal,” she said. “They help financially. They help emotionally. They keep you young.

In recent weeks, however, the increase in calls she has received urging her to house students is alarming.

“In the last eight days now I’ve been called probably 14 times,” she said. “In one day, four people called. People need housing. »

With demand for student accommodation increasing, Arnesen hopes other Concord landlords will be willing to step in. She hopes that her house can serve as an example for the benefit of welcoming students.

“I want to set an example of what I do so others know they have an extra piece to see it that way,” she said. “It won’t be the end of your life if you rent from someone. It could actually enrich your life.

Jon J. Epps