NEWS

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October 31, 2008

Facing ire, University waives rent for evicted students

[img id="76915" align="alignleft"] The University announced new measures Friday to ease the transition for tenants evicted from its East 57th Street and South Drexel Avenue apartment building earlier this week, including forgiving one month's rent.

On Monday, tenants received a letter informing them that they would have to vacate the building by the start of winter quarter due to structural deficiencies. University administrators met with residents on Tuesday to respond to concerns and provide details about assistance.

In the process of making exterior repairs, University Real Estate Operations (REO) discovered that the steel beams that support the floors and exterior brick were severely rotted, a condition that the building's previous owner, K&G, had concealed. After consulting with engineers two weeks ago, they determined that the building's weaknesses, coupled with upcoming construction projects, such as the demolition of a parking garage in January, would make the building too dangerous for residents. Fixing the building in time for construction will not be possible.

Cheryl Gutman, the deputy dean of students for housing and dining services, said efforts were made to respond to student concerns throughout a hectic week. Residents were originally informed that they would pay rent up until December 1, or until they vacated the building. But in an e-mail they received this morning, tenants were informed that their rent for November will be forgiven as well, a concession that many students had asked for at Tuesday's meeting. Recalling her own difficult moving experiences, Gutman said she hoped that the extra month would give students more flexibility timing their move. In addition, the $500 moving allowance will be given to each tenant before their move, instead of after, as had been originally planned.

Students hoping to live in the West campus area, or in single-unit graduate student housing, can enter into a lottery of University-owned properties. The lottery, which will likely be held next Thursday evening, will be similar to the annual University housing lottery.

Fourth-year Jimmy Salvatore said he is satisfied with how the University has handled the situation.

"What they're offering is pretty good, all things considered. If it were MAC [Property Management], they wouldn't give you anything. It could have been a lot worse," he said.

But MAC has made a play to attract the students. In a press release, it offered evicted students a deal for half off of the first month's rent as well as waived move-in fees. Ilene Jo Reizner, assistant vice president of real estate operations, pointed out that the private real estate market is "wide open," and she encouraged students to strike the best possible deal.

But not everyone thinks the University is acting in the students' best interest.

"When I first heard the news it just seemed like a transparent attempt to expand the hospital without having to compensate the tenants who occupy the area now. This entire area will be hospital campus in 10 or 15 years," said fourth-year Andrew Seeder, who lives on South Drexel Avenue, next door to the affected building.

Reizner denied this.

"When we bought the building, the intent was to continue operating it," she said, noting that the University would not have renewed tenants' leases for the year or invested in improvements for the building if they had other plans for the property.

The University has no immediate plans for the building. Though they will not make the necessary repairs to reinstate the building as a residence, Reizner insisted that plans for hospital expansion remain in the distant future.

Still, not all residents were convinced. Beruria Steinmetz-Silber said that the University's construction projects have become more important than students' educations.

"Given that the University is responsible for the construction on the hospital pavilion, and a university—especially ours—is theoretically about educating its students, I would have liked to think that the lives of students are first priority," she said in an e-mail interview on Thursday.