Students save money and raise health concerns at UA-leased apartments

Zach Johnson | @ZachJohnsonCW, News Editor

UA Housing and Residential Communities overbooked residence halls by about 800 students for fall 2021. The University leased 815 beds from East Edge and The Lofts at City Center to accommodate the demand for on-campus housing. 

Some students who were relocated to an off-campus apartment pay less per month by leasing through UA Housing compared to their neighbors who rent through the apartment complex. 

The University first encouraged students to volunteer to live at an off-campus apartment in late June. It offered no direct incentives to volunteers, except a 12-month lease instead of the standard nine-month lease for dorms. 

Students who were relocated to The Lofts or East Edge are not required to purchase a meal plan. Students living in residence halls are required to purchase an all-access meal plan for $2,117 per semester.

Within weeks, the University began notifying students that they had been moved to The Lofts or East Edge. Relocation to off-campus housing was no longer voluntary. HRC did not move freshmen off campus, except those with non-freshman roommates.

“We apologize for any inconvenience, and we want to assure you that we did not make this change lightly,” the HRC email said. “It was required by our need to meet the housing demand from incoming freshmen, who are required to live on campus.”  

The complexes were chosen after a bid process once high numbers of new students necessitated more housing. Senior Associate Vice President of Student Life Steven Hood said the University had successful leases with both East Edge and the Lofts in the past, and that this bid process was separate from previous contracts. 

Students who lease a unit at The Lofts through UA Housing pay $3,700 per semester regardless of floor plan — $800 less than the four-bedroom suite rate for residence halls. 

The Lofts’ four-bedroom floor plans average about $3,700 for six months. 

Two-bedroom apartments at The Lofts average about $4,100 per semester, so students leasing a two-bedroom apartment through UA save $400 per semester. 

At East Edge, three-bedroom units cost about $4,500 for six months, while students with a three-bedroom unit through UA Housing pay $300 less for the same amount of time. 

Residents who lease a studio apartment at East Edge through UA Housing get the best deal. Large studio apartments cost around $6,000 per semester, while those who lease through UA Housing pay $3,350 per semester. 

Heather Holladay is the mother of an incoming freshman. She said that her daughter was notified on July 14 that she had been reassigned from Lakeside West to The Lofts. One of Holladay’s daughter’s roommates is a sophomore. 

Her daughter was scheduled for an early move in date. Despite this, her move-in date at The Lofts was scheduled for Aug. 10. After several emails and phone calls with UA Housing, the move-in date was fixed. 

When move-in day came, Holladay said the management at the Lofts was unprepared, and new problems began when they made it to the apartment.

“We get to the second floor,” Holladay said. “And literally all I see is busted foam stuff everywhere, boxes, trash bags. It looked like stuff that had been pulled out of apartments and just thrown out into the [hallway]. … It smelled really bad.”

Holladay said her daughter compared the smell to that of a dead body. Boxes in the hallways were filled with trash, and gnats hovered. Holladay pulled beer caps, Taco Bell bags and Cheetos from beneath the couch cushions. The refrigerator and microwave had been repaired with duct tape. After three emergency maintenance requests, Holladay said the ice maker still showered water on the wall. 

She said a maintenance worker arrived during lunch one day to replace the carpet in one of the bedrooms. When her daughter returned that night, Holladay said the apartment door was open.

“I’m going oh, my gosh,” Holladay said. “What have we just moved my daughter into? This is not good.”

Despite their experience, Holliday said it was fantastic that the University had exceeded its housing capacity for the semester, and felt that it meant students were excited to return to school. 

Other East Edge residents have raised their concerns about health and safety. Resident Jared Goldstein said he found mold in his shower. He shared his concerns with other East Edge residents who shared similar stories of mold around their apartments. Goldstein said he noted his concerns on multiple feedback forms from East Edge but was never contacted. 

“I think if UA acts on it, East Edge will [work on the mold issue],” Goldstein said. “I think if people like me and you who only rent one bed go to East Edge, they’re not going to do anything.” 

In January, an annual Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Department Environmental Assessment revealed that multiple emergency lights at East Edge required battery replacements, liquid petroleum gas was stored in the riser room, and a fire panel showed trouble. Only the gas storage had been fixed by April 9, the most recent report. 

“We maintain our fire alarm and emergency systems to ensure they are working properly and according to code,” East Edge said in a statement to The Crimson White. “The systems are all functioning, and we are in the process of implementing certain upgrades and repairs.”

East Edge said that all service requests and claims are addressed within 24 hours, and added that a third party has investigated claims in the past. 

“To date, the select instances reported were not in public areas and were determined to be caused by improper upkeep by residents,” the statement said. “These issues have since been remedied.”

The Lofts cleared its 2021 TFR Environmental Assessment without issue. 

Hood said the University will conduct regular health and safety inspections in the complexes, similar to those in dorms, and they will be conducted by UA staff. 

“Our team and other campus partners have been assisting with final move-in preparation for students that contracted through HRC to live at The Lofts,” Hood said. “While this is not typical when a master lease is involved, to best serve our students we chose to have greater involvement in the cleaning and repairs for students as they move into their new assignment.”

Hood said the University has utilized off-campus apartment complexes in the past when growth outpaces capacity, but will reevaluate the need for off-campus apartments annually. 

The Lofts at City Center did not respond to requests for comment. 

Editor’s Note: Zach Johnson is a resident at one of the apartments leased by UA Housing.