Opinion: Students left in the (student housing) lurch

Megan Hornyak

Editor’s Note: This is an opinion column and does not reflect the views of The Kent Stater.

Student housing around Kent is in a crisis, especially for international students. By the time I realized I was going to Kent, it was in late May, and I needed to find an apartment fast. My mother was going to drive from Michigan with me to help co-sign an apartment. I had one day to find a place and sign my lease or else I was living out of my car. I did not know anyone from the area or how I could find a roommate. I chose College Towers because it was close to campus and had a room ready for me that day. I signed the paperwork, and I thought I was the luckiest person on earth, but I soon found out I was wrong.

In my own experience at College Towers, I’ve filed a health department complaint about a leaking roof in the spring thaw and concerns with my electrical outlet nearby. I also had carbon monoxide leak into my apartment (which they fixed), but left me sick for two days. If it weren’t for my pride or insecurity, I would have gone to the hospital and had proof to break my lease that day, but it was early in the semester and there were no other apartments available, so I kept my mouth shut and dealt with it. I saw a bat fly in the hall next to my door, room 421, witnessed the puke left on the front door for more than two weeks and saw the thousands of ant carcasses that collected around my syrup bottle in the kitchen even though I cleaned and sprayed pesticide.

My experience at my apartment was not a good one, and I am not the only student who had serious health concerns and difficulties when it comes to the place they live in.

At the same apartment complex, Leah, a graduate student who requested her full name to be confidential, said she had a mixed experience about College Towers, but stayed for three years out of convenience.

“It was very convenient because working in (my office it was) a five, eight minute walk,” Leah said. “For a part of the time I had a bike, I could get there in just like no time at all. I’m on campus ready to work. I could go home for lunch because the distance was short (and) I didn’t need to get a parking pass, which saved me money.”

College Towers has a good maintenance crew that typically arrived within 24 hours, Leah said. However, because of the building’s age, its poor quality and maintenance of appliances, Leah said the crew visits the apartments frequently. Leah also suggests the cleanliness of the building always remained questionable and believes some of the dirt and grime from her apartment was probably there for a long time.

She also admits she struggled with a bed bug infestation. “People would probably say that they were on the mattress when I bought it, but I bought it new from Big Lots, and there’s no reports of Big Lots having bed bugs in the area, and when I later discovered what a bed bug was after being in denial for six months, I remembered back to the day I moved in (when I saw) one on the wall in my kitchen,” Leah said. “So they were in my apartment when I moved in, I’m pretty sure.”

Documented reports of bed bugs have been validated with Kent Health Department records as recently as June 29 of this year. This report was filed and confirmed in a series of visits to the apartment that occurred until Aug. 17. Other filed and validated health reports of College Towers include problems with mold and heating units in which, in one instance, Student Legal Services got directly involved in Feb. 6 of this year. Another complaint was filed last year on Nov. 18, in which a mother was concerned about the welfare of her children with the lack of heating in the complex and was confirmed.

The apartment complex did come in to spray and were diligent to make sure they were gone, but Leah said they didn’t spray the apartment before she got there.

“If they have these pest problems, why aren’t they gassing these places up right after each tenant leaves?” Leah said. “How much can that really cost?” The situation forced her to throw away her new mattress as she moved into her new place.

College Towers is not the only apartment complex with a run-in with a health department official. In the years 2014-2015, many other licensed establishments have had their fair share of problems. Out of the health department records of filed, but not confirmed health department complaints, Celeron Suites had two reports along with the Province, and White Hall Terrace had a total of three filed complaints. Silver Meadows, now called the Villages at Franklin Crossing, had a total of six health complaints, and College Towers had total of 10 unverified and some verified complaints that, for the most part, occurred within this year.

“The number of complaints is relative to the size of a property. If somebody only owns 12 apartments and nine of them have health complaints, you have a problem different than if somebody has 400 apartments and (they have) four complaints. It’s just different,” said Kathryn Good, the property manager of Villages at Franklin Crossing.

Both College Towers and the Villages have more than 400 apartments and maybe the number of these complaints should be considered. But also the Villages has new management and is planning to rehab their apartments.

Other apartments not listed on health department records still wreak havoc when the buildings are not maintained properly. Franklin Apartments located on East Main Street set fire last year in November due to an improperly maintained electrical unit.

Kathryn Hannum, a geography master’s student who used to live there, described her experience and detailed what happened the night of the fire.

“(The owners) didn’t take care of the building clearly…from the anesthetics to the electrical wiring that caused the fire in the first place,” Hannum said, who left many valuables behind. “I had literally whatever I could pull out from my drawers the night of the fire. Like my house is covered in fire extinguisher (material)…I lived out of a suitcase for the rest of the year.”

Not only was the building improperly maintained, but the building ownership managed the cleanup and fixing of her apartment poorly, Hannum said. She said the ownership vowed her apartment would be fixed and livable by January, which didn’t happen.

“I’m in an apartment, no furniture, still living out of a suitcase and now they’re charging me rent on an apartment that is not mine, while all of the my stuff is being held hostage and I am right there,” Hannum said. “I see what they’re doing, no work is being done…that was how it went for the entire year.”

The university used to have student housing for grad students and other students who had to live off campus which could have solved the problem. The demolition of the university-owned Allerton Apartments began in 2012 and some buildings were set to be demolished this year. As the university continues its building projects, one has to wonder if the student housing issue is being ignored.

The city makes way for student housing by building the 345 Flats, but the university has not tried to rectify this issue, which leaves me concerned. Students do not make enough money to afford to live in a decent living space on their own without loans or monetary aid. I am curious if the 345 Flats will be affordable for students because there is no information about the pricing of these new apartments.

Finding an apartment

“(Finding available housing has) been difficult over the last three years. Since 2012, we’ve pretty much carried a waiting list all times of the year,” Burdette Baker, a manager at the traditional housing complex Kent Village just outside of Kent in Franklin Township, said.

When finding an apartment, those individuals who are the most familiar with the area have a better advantage.

“People that are familiar with the area lease far in advance so that they get the community that they really prefer,“ Baker said. “People who are coming here (with) late acceptances, transfers from other schools, late grad student acceptance…they have to go with what’s available and typically what’s available is the least preferred communities in the area.”

Not every resident is upset about College Towers or other communities, and some even like it there. Visal Kimsroy, a master’s student in geography, enjoys his apartment complex because of his roommates and his area is quiet. Chris Willer, another geography master’s student who lived at University Oaks, thought his apartment was decent with a nice gym. Willer simply moved out because his space was just too big for him, and the only complaint Willer ever had about his living conditions last year dealt with residents who didn’t pick up their dog poop and an overwhelming odor of cigarette smoke in the halls.

So, what does this mean?

Where you live and how much you can stand living there is based on your preference, but students that are new to the area and accepted late to the university are at an incredible disadvantage. More importantly, these health complaint records are not made available for students who are new to the area because they are not online. Currently you must be there in person to see the health department complaints and see whether they are validated or unvalidated complaints that are signed by an official from the health department.  

Having the actual record of each of these events  online and having it from a trusted source like the Kent Health Department would greatly benefit international students and students who are new to the area. Seeing the records online would allow students to view what was filed and make up their own mind about where they should live.  

The graphic that goes along with this piece shows the number of complaints and not all complaints have been validated. Even if the complaints are not proven, a high quantity from one location can still send a message and protect unknowing tenants about what kind of place they are attempting to live in just by seeing the kind of relationship tenants are having with their landlords.

Having so many people with complaints is usually a sign that something is wrong. Having the records available online and being able to see which ones were validated would be truthful and helpful instead of going through files and files of complaints. As stated earlier, some of the worst complaints from College Towers such as bed bugs, heat problems and mold have been validated. Unintentionally not putting these records online can protect these places from ever needing to change or feel pressured to have better housing conditions.  

Students are being left in the lurch, and as graduate students, we are not just students, but employees of this university and aiding our university by teaching courses at a cheaper price than an adjunct or full time faculty. Shouldn’t the university help aid us in our living arrangements much like a job that hires international workers aids its employees to find reasonable and affordable housing? It’s just a thought.

If you would like to make a Health Department Complaint you may do so in person at their office in the Swartz Center on Kent Campus in Room 207 off of Summit Street or go to http://www.kentpublichealth.org/complaints/index.php to file a complaint online.

Contact Megan Hornyak at [email protected].