NEWS

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October 28, 2008

U of C evicts students from East 57th Street and South Drexel Avenue

The University has ordered its tenants on South Drexel Avenue and East 57th Street—including 44 College students and one graduate student—to vacate their apartments by the start of winter quarter, citing structural “deficiencies.” There is also one non-University affiliated tenant.

The University’s Real Estate Office (REO) sent e-mails and letters late Monday afternoon to all residents living on the corner of East 57th Street and South Drexel Avenue, informing them that they would have to leave their apartments by January 4, the day before winter classes begin.

According to the letter, contractors “discovered greater disrepair behind the brick façade than was anticipated” while repairing the exterior of the building.

“These deficiencies must be repaired in order to maintain the structural integrity of the building,” wrote Daniel Schuch, REO associate director. “Unfortunately, the process needed to make the necessary repairs requires a support system that will occupy about 50 percent of the interior space of the affected rooms in each apartment.”

Several residents were disturbed at the prospect of apartment hunting in the middle of the year.

“We’re all livid,” said fourth-year Bridget Kiernan, who has lived in her apartment for over two years. “We understand there isn’t much to be done, but we’re a big family here. It’s very upsetting.”

The letter also mentioned structural problems would “almost certainly be exacerbated” by construction of the Hospital Pavilion across the street in January.

“At one point [REO staff] told us the building could fall down, and that’s why we have to leave. But if it could fall down, why are we living here?” Kiernan said.

Other residents shared concerns over how safe the apartments will be until they move out.

“It doesn’t make any sense that it’s safe for us to live here. It’s not like the Pavilion construction would be any closer than the new biology building,” said fourth-year Zain Gowani, referring to the University’s Center for Biomedical Discovery, which is being built across the street from the apartment.

Assistant Vice President of Real Estate Operations Ilene Jo Reizner said the apartment building is currently safe to live in.

“The structural condition does not create immediate concern for the residents,” she said in an e-mail to the Maroon.

Reizner and Schuch declined to comment further.

Safety issues aside, residents must now address the daunting process of apartment hunting, while facing midterms and papers at the same time. Susan Art, dean of students in the College, said that several students spoke with her after hearing the news.

“They’re very worried about the logistics of moving in the middle of the academic quarter,” Art said. “They feel this is a big surprise, and how are they going to pack their things and look at houses and compare prices, all while being students. It’s a nuisance.”

Art said that the situation is less than ideal for the University, as well.

“We would have preferred to let people live there until the land is taken over by the hospital some years from now, if the hospital ever decides to expand there,” she said. “But the work on the new Pavilion would make it less safe, so the safest and right thing to do was to let them know.”

Schuch told residents in the letter that REO will hold meetings this week about relocation. Schuch also said that all available off-campus undergraduate and graduate housing would be reserved for displaced apartment residents, but that no space remains in undergrad dorms. REO also plans to reimburse residents up to $500 in moving costs.

Gowani has already set up a meeting through the University to look at nearby apartments.

“I went to REO’s office after I got the letter and asked what they could do to help. I’ve got an appointment to look at apartments tomorrow that are currently unoccupied,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll sign a lease by the end of the week.”

Kiernan and her roommate also went to REO’s offices, but found its staff unhelpful.

“When we went in, they said they couldn’t answer any of our questions, though we did pull out of them that the University is going to set us up with leases [in] Hyde Park,” she said.

Art also told Kiernan when they met Monday that Hyde Park has a 25 percent vacancy rate, giving the displaced tenants a good chance of getting a new apartment quickly, according to Kiernan.

Nonetheless, she remained unenthusiastic about moving.

“We live really close to campus, and we definitely won’t find an apartment like ours again,” she said.