Spring break is typically a much-needed break from the stress of the semester. Three days after students returned, the University, under the direction of the Florida Board of Governors, moved to remote instruction that would last two weeks. Just six days later, remote instruction was extended to the end of the semester.
At this time, COVID-19 was just warming up; it was still being discussed whether to include a cruise ship in the national case count. For on-campus students in the whirlwind of abrupt change, rent was still due.
The recommendation to leave the University and travel home came on March 28th. A Lease-End Credit Addendum promised 1.5 months of rent refund. Through mid-July, students were in the dark about when they would be receiving their refunds.
One of those students is A, a Junior currently living in an off-campus apartment. Money is quite tight for them – Paycheck to paycheck from their grocery delivery job.
“I probably would not have moved out on the 27th of March without being promised a refund,” said A. “[The situation] in turn caused me to use my parent’s resources.”
A, aside from their phone and health insurance bill, is financially independent of their parents. Expenses include groceries, rent, fuel, and utilities. A received $200 in grant funds but noted that they could only receive grant funds once per semester, and they had been anticipating the refund.
“At this point, we have no confirmation of any sort of ballpark,” said A, frustrated by the uncertainty. “For all we know, it could be another two years before we get that money back.”
Z is another student who is owed a refund. Like A, Z is also a junior financially independent from their parents and currently living off-campus. Z works in a service job, though with reduced hours. Unlike A, Z was not eligible for grants as Z wasn’t a student during summer, which is when they were most in need. Z, an SGA officer, was part of the creation for the Phund-A-Phoenix grant.
“Being out of work made it so much more painful to the point that it’s been my main stressor,” said Z, who was possibly exposed to COVID-19 at their work and quarantining. “For me, with my condition- anxiety, and stuff like that, it’s made it a lot worse.”
“[Since] the state-imposed shutdown in March related to COVID-19, there were a series of dynamics impacting lease agreements and staffing,” wrote Vestcor in a statement to Layers.
Factors included the lack of a formal move out inspection for closing accounts, the “surprising” amount of students that remained on campus, and thorough cleaning procedures, according to Vestcor. “All of these dynamics, and more, required a significant amount of work to address each lease individually.”
Though the University manages student life and Resident Assistants (RAs) (as of October 2019), the dormitories are not owned by the University, but rather by a pubic private partnership with Vestcor, who also built the residence halls. They have an Operating Agreement with the University and hire Coastal Ridge to manage leasing and maintenance.
It was University President Randy Avent requested that Vestcor provide the April 2020 Housing credits. “President Avent is a strong advocate of students,” wrote Vice Provost Dr. Miller in an email to Layers.
A day after the interviewing A and Z (July 24th), in an email to residents, Coastal Ridge and Vestcor announced refunds would be distributed before the end of the month and should currently be in the hands of students. They thanked the former residents for their patience and apologized for the difficulty of the situation. “While we can’t imagine the difficulty this process has caused, we appreciate your patience we navigated this situation during unprecedented times. [sic]”
“These were unprecedented times and we feel we made each decision with the best interest of the student in mind,” Vestcor said in their statement. “We appreciate everyone’s patience during this time. We are looking forward to the re-opening of campus in a few short weeks!”