The housing crunch for University of Delaware students hit a difficult new milestone this week as more than one hundred of them were potentially facing short-term eviction from their temporary homes in Newark hotels.
With enrollment at the university hitting all-time highs, the availability of student housing has reached all-time lows. A new apartment complex that was set to host 140 students, South Main Street Plaza, failed to open in time for the start of the school year and was unable to accommodate students that had signed leases.
The site’s construction company has footed the bill for these students to stay in local hotels, where they’ve been for more than a month.
But those hotels had longstanding bookings from parents and alumni planning to return to Newark this fall for big football and homecoming weekends. This week, many of the students heard they might have to pack their bags to make way for these reservation holders.
The South Main Street Plaza, built by GGA Construction of Middletown, is still not approved to open to renters due to failure to meet code requirements in multiple areas. Newark Mayor Jerry Clifton says he has heard that the builder has been paying $36,000 per month to cover hotel fees for students since June.
“I’ve had some pretty irate parents calling me about this,” said Clifton.
Clifton says this is the first ‘really egregious case’ of a builder not having its building ready for students. “This is really unchartered territory. I keep telling parents that I put ninety-five percent of the burden of this on the builder.
“Originally this building was supposed to be ready this past spring – before the June 1 lease. All during this process, the city kept telling the builder that they couldn’t build things this way or that way. Our code enforcement officer would copy the code and highlight the area of concern, but the builder often debated our codes,” he said.
“This is a tough situation with many students living in one hotel room. Some of these students are studying in the lobby of their hotels. But we’re not going to approve something that doesn’t fully meet code,” said the mayor.
Clifton adds that Building One did pass a fire safety test yesterday and that the builder is hoping to get the certificates of occupancy (CO) for that possibly as early as Friday afternoon.
But he cautioned that the builder still has not provided “as-built” plans to the city, which are required so that police and fire can easily navigate the building in an emergency. “You would think that a building that’s on the verge of CO’s would have provided that six months ago. This whole thing amazes me,” he said.
UD Student Rentals, the developer and rental company which hired GGA Construction, has been sending email updates to the students living in the hotels periodically to let them know what’s going on. Email after email has pushed back the move-in date.
Clifton says UD Student Rentals landlord Hal Prettyman put “an eight-month fudge factor” into the construction timetable and is disappointed that even that wasn’t enough. (Prettyman could not be reached by phone on Thursday.)
“I initially had hoped that the building would be done by September 13th, which was the projected completion date upon check-in at the hotel, but my hope quickly faded with each update,” said one student who’s residing at the Homewood Suites on South Campus. “Based on the emails, they are struggling to pass inspections.”
This student was placed in a hotel room with three other students with just one king bed and one pull out couch. Some students were said to have brought air mattresses into the hotel. She also said the developer said the hotel would include a ‘full kitchen.’ “I would have bought a meal plan had I known this was going to be the situation,” she said.
The mother of this student last heard some of the students would be moving in this upcoming weekend, but she is not holding her breath.
The information came from a Facebook group made for the parents of students facing this relocation. She added that parents are “pissed” and worried about the situation.
“I went down to UD Student Rentals, and I spoke to Hal Prettyman himself. I asked him about the Parent’s Weekend and Homecoming, and he said he didn’t have any idea of the dates,” said the parent.
The students are split into two buildings, the second lagging in being completed. The most recent update the students of the latter have received said, “In the event that GGA Construction does not get approval for a move-in prior to Parent’s Weekend, we are working on a Plan B and possible options for housing. We will update everyone once a Plan B is finalized. We are hoping that this is not necessary, but we do want to have a Plan B in place as well.”
Dawson Funk, a junior, said the experience has negatively impacted getting schoolwork done. He’s moving into Building Two, which means he will stay in the hotel longer than many of his fellow students.
“I can’t mentally do work in the room because there isn’t enough space for desks of course, so I spend a lot of time out of the hotel studying. When I do not feel like studying on campus I study in the lobby at the hotel,” he said.
Funk is fortunate to have a car. But he said the two-mile hike to the main campus is tough for many students. “But my roommates and other students walk across the street to the stadium, and then they take a bus from the stadium over to campus.”
Embassy Suites front desk manager Kyle Welch says they were told students would be out by September 15th. But he confirmed today that the students will be able to stay through October without having to move. “Before we were forced by the mayor to extend the reservations of the students, we had to honor the previous reservations. But now we have arrangements in place for the weekend overflow reservations,” he said.
Funk added that he personally spoke to the manager of Homewood Suites. “He told me that they had no intention of kicking anyone out and he didn’t know where the information the news got came from, but it wasn’t true. He was there trying to reach out and speak with as many students as he could to spread the word to,” Funk said.
The mayor says the city is doing whatever it can to help facilitate a speedy move-in. “Once the builder has passed all inspections, we will work overtime to get them their certificate of occupancy and expedite the process,” he said.