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Monday, September 26, 2022
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‘I’m technically homeless’: UB students stranded after Air Buffalo delays opening

Delays in construction blindside Air Buffalo tenants week before semester

Air Buffalo’s delayed construction will prevent students from living there until “at least October 15th.”
Air Buffalo’s delayed construction will prevent students from living there until “at least October 15th.”

Editors’ note: The Spectrum spoke on-the-record to one student who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of backlash from Air Buffalo. The Spectrum doesn’t usually grant anonymity to sources unless they “may face danger, retribution or other harm,” as enumerated in the SPJ Code of Ethics, but has made the decision to do so here in order to protect this person’s identity. The anonymous student will be referred to by the pseudonym of Chelsea Jones throughout this story.

Sophia Silvera had no idea where she was going to sleep.

Hundreds of miles away from home and with her first class looming at 10 a.m. the following morning, Silvera weighed the prospect of starting the semester without a roof over her head.

She glanced at her car, filled to the brim with all of her yet-to-be-unpacked belongings. A friend who came along to help out had a train to catch at 7 a.m.

Reading that syllabus was going to have to wait.

Silvera is one of several UB students left reeling after Air Buffalo, a new ‘high-end’ student housing complex, informed would-be residents that their move-in dates would be postponed, in emails sent out during the week of Aug. 25.

“The Air Buffalo’s top priority is the safety and privacy of our residents. Due to delays in construction, we have made the decision to delay the move-in day to a date wherein we’re confident that we are able to provide quality housing to our residents,” The Air Buffalo said in a statement to The Spectrum.

Hayes Construction Services — overseeing the construction of the Air Buffalo project — did not respond for comment.

Incoming residents set to arrive “on the 1st to 4th floor[s] of the building” were notified that their move-in at Air Buffalo would be postponed to “at least October 15th,” according to an email obtained by The Spectrum.

Now entering the third week of the semester, several UB students aired their grievances and misgivings over the resulting cloud of uncertainty hovering over their living conditions panning into the fall.

Blindsided

Silvera, a sophomore public health major, was already en route to Buffalo when she first received word about a potential change and delay to her expected move-in.

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“I’m literally reading the email as I’m driving up to Buffalo,” Silvera said. “Then they’re like, ‘you’re gonna stay in a hotel room and you’re gonna have a roommate.’ And I was like, ‘wait what?’”

Silvera was alarmed. The sophomore had pointedly sought out a private studio apartment at Air Buffalo, following an unruly shared living situation the previous semester.

“To be honest, I was only looking for outside places to stay because I had a really bad experience with a roommate last year. I had to leave the room two weeks before school ended. I just wanted to get out of the situation,” Silvera said.

It was during her search over the summer that she came across Air Buffalo, a new apartment complex touted for completion this past summer after New York City-based real estate developer DMG Investments LLC purchased the property for $5.7 million in 2021. 

The firm also developed and operates Auden Buffalo, another student housing complex that opened its doors in 2021.

Situated at 1265 Sweet Home Rd, Air Buffalo is less than a ten-minute walk away from UB’s North Campus. Pending construction, the property will house 154 apartments ranging from studios to two-bedroom units.

Silvera jumped at the opportunity as soon as she discovered availability for a studio at the complex. In hindsight, she now recalls pitching the idea to her parents with a pang of regret.

“My parents literally thought they were getting into a scam at first,” Silvera said. “I guess it sort of turned out to be one.”

In emails sent out the week of Aug. 25, Air Buffalo management outlined that tenants were to continue paying the standard rate of their rooms despite circumstances requiring them to either relocate to the Marriott Buffalo Niagara or Auden Buffalo.

Silvera highlighted that students like herself, who were not native to the Buffalo area, lacked support networks and had no alternatives to turn to, were especially hit hard by the announcement. 

A native of Westchester County, NY, commuting from home isn’t an option for Silvera. 

“It’s a six hour drive. I can’t drive back home and drive back to campus for class, you know?”

Hassan Nabi, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences, felt similarly trapped.

“You guys legitimately scammed us… our units are not gonna be ready until a month and a half into school?” Nabi commented on a post on the Air Buffalo Instagram page. “Nice strategy to get us tied up in the lease and then break that kind of news.”

As of the time of publication, comments have been restricted on every other Air Buffalo post.

Nabi has since relocated to the Marriott Buffalo Niagara hotel per the accommodations provided by Air Buffalo. “It’s pretty inconvenient… it’s a temporary place,” he said. 

Chelsea Jones who remains anonymous out of fear of backlash from Air Buffalo management, echoed that sentiment, highlighting how tenants didn’t have a choice in the matter unless they invoke a $250 cancellation fee.

“One of the conditions of the leases, if we were to have them hold our spot, [is that] we had to be staying in their provided place, which was either the hotel or a room in Auden,” she said in a Zoom interview with The Spectrum.

Jones also expressed misgivings about Air Buffalo pairing relocated tenants at random instead of booking separate rooms or making pairings based on intended roommates at the Buffalo Niagara Marriott.

“That, to me, felt not acceptable,” she said. “I didn’t want to be with a random roommate. I had a roommate that I had picked to live with. It’s really awkward. My [current] roommate and I — he is a boy. And I am a girl, which is fine — it is what it is. But we had been expecting to have different rooms.”

The pair have since resorted to taking turns alternating between staying in the room and staying with friends. Even then, Jones says that the accommodations are taking a financial toll, despite Air Buffalo promising that tenants would also receive a $100 weekly credit to cover food and laundry costs over the duration of their stay at the hotel.

Jones disputes this.

“They’re yet to credit us. We don’t even know when we’re going to be able to move in and they’re still charging us the full rent, not crediting our account at all,” she said. “The credit itself was supposed to be $100 per week that we stay here. They told us that they would credit it at the beginning of September. Now they’re saying it’s gonna be the beginning of October, it was supposed to be weekly.”

According to Jones, the credit would not have been enough regardless. 

“$100 a week is already basically nothing — that’s supposed to be covering our food and laundry costs. If you do the math 100 divided by two, that’s $50. Because it’s $100 for both of us. So $50 a week, that’s less than $7 a day for food and laundry.”

Jones described the pressure of the situation coming to a head from all fronts. “Food is the number one concern for me, the fact that I can’t cook is really a problem. That’s really expensive, and it’s been stressing me out a lot,” she said.

“I want to be focusing on school, and I just can’t because I have to worry about my finances so much. I’m paying for school myself, and having to pay for that on top of food is really stressful.” 

Silvera echoed the daily struggle of staying afloat during the start of the semester. 

On Aug. 28, complications during check-in at the hotel and tense exchanges with Air Buffalo management presented a final straw. By mutual agreement, Silvera cut her losses, paying $250 to sever the lease.

Despite a moment of relief, the reality of the situation crashed onto her as she stepped into the parking lot without a guarantee of shelter.

“At this point I was like, ‘wow! I’m technically homeless,’” Silvera said. “My parents were really stressed. They didn’t know where I was sleeping that night. And it was just a lot on them, too.” 

Silvera spent the next weeks hopping between her friend’s dorm room and living out of her car. She dressed out of a suitcase in the trunk. She did her makeup in the car mirror.

“[My friend] lives in Evans [Quadrangle],” Silvera said. “She has a single room and I felt so bad because people should have their privacy. I wasn’t just going to unpack all my stuff into my friend’s room.”

A foot in the door

Come three weeks into the semester, both Silvera and Jones are doing their best to make the most of their ordeals.

Silvera says she was able to capitalize on a sudden opening at Villas on Rensch. She signed a lease earlier this week, eager to put the past few weeks behind her.

“I felt really sad because my parents couldn’t do anything there. They work a lot. It’s not like they could just fix everything. It just kind of sucked. And I feel like my body could feel it… I was really stressed.”

Jones highlighted a need for legal scrutiny over the validity of enacting relocation efforts on such short notice, citing terms in their signed lease. 

“I do think that this is grounds to be sued, for sure,” she said. “They did violate their lease which is against the law. Someone should do something.”

While Air Buffalo reserves the right to relocate its tenants while “redeveloping or making improvements to the Community,” it may only transfer tenants to “another Unit within the Community” and must provide “at least thirty (30) days prior written notice,” according to a copy of the Air Buffalo lease agreement obtained by The Spectrum.

However, another clause in the lease agreement states that tenants have to notify Air Buffalo of an alleged violation “within five days after occurrence,” with failure to do so resulting in a “total and complete waiver of said alleged violation.”

But both students remain defiant. 

“Places shouldn’t be able to leave kids homeless,” Silvera said.

In the meantime, Nabi and Jones continue to bide their time waiting for updates on the apartment complex, as well as any potential backlash from Air Buffalo management.

For Jones, there remains little else to do.

“All my friends are already moved in with people. I tried looking at other places near campus. But I’d have to buy furniture and stuff… I wouldn’t be moved in until the end of the semester. So what’s the point?” Jones said.“I’m kind of just stuck in this situation.”

Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor and can be reached at kyle.nguyen@ubspectrum.com


KYLE NGUYEN
IMG_7041.jpg

Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum.

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