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Wednesday, January 27, 2021
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UB students at risk of homelessness and suffering from debt face first-time break housing charges

Financially-disadvantaged students are struggling to focus on finals and make housing arrangements as they question UB’s decision to charge for traditionally-free accommodations

<p>This year, students will take out loans to pay for break housing or possibly face homelessness</p>

This year, students will take out loans to pay for break housing or possibly face homelessness

This year, UB’s dorms and campus apartments will offer winter break housing at nightly rates comparable to those of the Red Roof PLUS+ and other area motels. 

In years past, students could remain in their dorms for free throughout the winter intersession. But this year, students will take out loans to pay for break housing. Those who can’t could face homelessness. 

Many students, who were required to “acknowledge and agree to all of the terms and conditions by July 31,” accepted the conditions, but are angry about the strict guidelines governing who is permitted to remain on-campus and surprised by the rates charged by Campus Living. Winter housing was traditionally a free-of-charge service offered to UB campus residents, and some students think Campus Living’s decision to charge for break housing is an attempt to recover housing revenue losses due to a rapid COVID-related decline in the number of UB's on-campus residents and a 74% decline in students taking daily in-person courses. 

Chaya Smart first learned about the charge when a Campus Living email prompted her to sign an updated UB housing contract on Jul. 24.   

The contract didn’t specify an exact break housing charge, but Smart, a junior law major, signed the contract, assuming the charge would be “reasonable.” She was given a week to sign it before Campus Living would revoke her housing, according to the email.

When Smart read the new contract, she learned break housing costs would range from $35.80 to $49.68 per night, depending on the residence type. 

“I thought UB would’ve just charged us for maybe electricity and stuff, which is understandable; but 40 plus dollars a night is absolutely ridiculous,” Smart said. “It seems to me that UB only cares about one thing: money. We should not have to be burdened with extra debt solely due to UB’s money problems. At this time they should want to be behind their students not burden them with extra debt that they cannot afford.”

On Jun. 15, President Tripathi sent an unprecedented email about the COVID pandemic’s effects on UB’s finances and student life, which included the Campus Planning Committee’s recommendations for fall housing. 

Residence halls and on-campus apartments, according to the email, would operate at 60% capacity during the fall semester to minimize the risk of on-campus COVID transmissions. A week after Tripathi emailed students, Campus Living emailed students saying it would “amend the Housing Agreement [residents] signed as part of the application process to reflect the changes in operations being implemented for the upcoming school year effective August 2020.” 

Change included the following: 

  • Contract dates for on-campus housing were changed to Aug. 27, 2020 – Nov. 25, 2020, in accordance with “changes to the academic calendar, including online instructions beginning at fall break” 
  • New standard housing rates were implemented for all residence hall rooms — excluding Greiner Hall — based on a maximum two-person occupancy
  • Break housing would only be available from Nov. 25, 2020 – Jan. 20, 2021 for students who meet SUNY-imposed eligibility criteria 

Sara White*, a sophomore sociology major, says the winter housing charge “is the straw that broke the camel's back.” Unable to afford UB housing and academic fees, White has decided to take a leave of absence. Since the Thanksgiving Break, she has struggled with job hunting and homelessness. She blames “UB’s greediness.”  

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“I think it’s ridiculous that UB would charge us extra to stay here in the winter, especially low-income students like myself that are going to be homeless when we ‘go back home’ for the winter,” White said.

“I dont think I’m going to come back though,” White said. “There’s less and less to do on campus, especially with COVID and funding [cuts]. UB is giving students the bare minimum and expecting them to stay because it’s a prestigious college.”

Campus Living told The Spectrum students “can contact the Office of Financial Aid to discuss their individual situations or apply for emergency funds, including The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), for eligible expenses.” 

“Residence hall rent,” however, is explicitly listed as an “ineligible expense” for HEERF and all other forms of UB emergency funding on UB’s Emergency Funds webpage.  

Dylan Pisani, a senior Urban and Public Policy major, is concerned the extra burden will be felt by students who cannot return home over break.

“I think that they are doing a disservice to housing-insecure students who may not have suitable options outside of their on-campus dorm or apartment,” Pisani said. “The $40 per night fee seems extremely unreasonable during a pandemic, especially considering they didn’t enforce it in previous winter-break housing sessions.”

Nearly 460 students had signed up for break housing as of late November — an 80% decrease in winter-break housing from last year, according to Campus Living’s statement to The Spectrum. Campus Living also denied charging high winter housing charges to make up for lost housing revenue. The unsigned statement did not provide a reason for assessing the $40 per night charge. 

Kaylie Brinkman’s family lives a short two-hour drive from Buffalo, but the biological sciences major says the experience of living at home is worlds apart from her life at UB.

She hoped to stay on campus to work at the Early Childhood Research Center in Baldy Hall for an additional month, but now believes the cost of staying on campus would eclipse the earnings she’d make at her work-study job. 

“Not being able to work [at the Early Childhood Research Center] for another month is really a bummer for me,” Brinkman said. “I get minimum wage and I’m only allowed to work a certain number of hours each week, so it wouldn’t be sustainable for me to stay on campus with the winter break rates even if I continued to work.”

Brinkman also worries how the responsibilities of her growing family might distract her during finals week. 

“My mom had a baby at the end of October, [so now] it’ll be even harder to study because even though she says she won’t ask for my help, I know she will still ask me to do things while I’m trying to study or watch a lecture or do homework,” Brinkman said. “I imagine I will end up really distracted with an infant in the house, and I already don't sleep well, so I imagine I'll barely sleep at all with a baby crying.” 

Brinkman couldn’t understand why housing charges were so high. She compared nightly dorm costs to those of rooms at local hotels. 

“I don't think the cost of winter housing is fair at all,” Brinkman said. “As far as I know, the price of living didn’t change from a regular semester so I think it’s insane that we’re losing a month’s worth of our apartments and residence halls for the same price, and now they’re trying to get us to pay hotel rates every night to stay in our own places.”

 *Student’s name has been changed because they fear retaliation

Elizabeth Napolitano is the senior news editor and can be reached at elizabeth.napolitano@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @LizKNapolitano


ELIZABETH NAPOLITANO

Elizabeth "Liz" Napolitano is the senior news editor for The Spectrum. She's an optimistic pessimist who found her love for journalism in Ecuador. She likes late night walks and reading Twitter threads in their entirety. 

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