Tied in leases, Temple students grapple with off-campus housing amid COVID-19

As the university encourages students living off campus to return home, many students are still expected to pay rent for leases that go through the end of the semester.

A face mask is left on the sidewalk along Montgomery Avenue near Willington Street on March 18. While Temple recommended that students living in off-campus apartments should return home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many are choosing to remain in their housing. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Taylor Franck has no plans of returning home to Easton, Pennsylvania or leaving her off-campus apartment on Montgomery Avenue near Willington Street. And she’s not alone, either, she said. 

“I’m on a pretty popular college student street, so I do still hear the parties going on, you know the frat houses and everything, so overall I’d have to say it’s actually pretty popular for students to stay off-campus,” said Franck, a senior marketing major who lives on Montgomery Avenue near Willington Street.

As a part of Temple University’s March 11 decision to transition to online learning for the remainder of the spring semester due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the university instructed all students living in on-campus housing to evacuate by March 21. The university also recommended students living off campus to return home. 

On March 16, the Division of Student Affairs again encouraged off campus students to go home, The Temple News reported. The email came two days after the first case of a Temple student testing positive for COVID-19 was reported. 

Nearly 5,398 students live in Temple owned or sponsored housing, and 9,644 students live on or near Main Campus this academic year, according to Temple’s Institutional Research and Advancement. 

In the Division of Student Affairs’ March 16 email, Chris Carey, senior associate dean of students encouraged students off campus to practice social distancing, The Temple News reported.

The intersection of Montgomery Avenue near Willington is a popular street 2 blocks from Temple University’s Main Campus for students to rent houses and apartments on. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new coronavirus which was first discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It causes respiratory illnesses. The disease has since spread to dozens of countries, and on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of coronavirus a pandemic.

“If you have not yet returned home, or don’t plan to do so, please make sure that you are not engaging in behavior like hosting or attending parties that will put you, your peers, and your families and communities at higher risk for the spread of COVID-19,” Carey wrote. 

But Brendan Pang, a senior biology major, wanted to wait before returning home to family Springfield, Pennsylvania, as he’d been around hundreds of classmates on campus that week, and wasn’t sure if he had been unknowingly exposed to COVID-19 on campus.

“I wanted to hold off on going back, in case I had it as well,” added Pang, who lives on Oxford Street near Willington.

Pang plans to head home sometime in the coming weeks, but his five other roommates, all who are Temple students, plan on staying. He plans to continue paying his rent while he’s home because he hopes to return to his apartment in the summer to continue his job at Temple’s Integrative Ecology Lab if the outbreak improves, Pang said.

The intersection of Oxford and Willington streets. As Temple University transitions to online learning for the remainder of Spring 2020 semester, some students are staying in their housing off campus and some are going home. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms of COVID-19 include a high fever, cough and shortness of breath. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that symptoms can be mild or severe and appear 2-14 days after being exposed to the disease.

Sarah Zapiec, a sophomore history major, pays $1,000 a month for an apartment at the View at Montgomery on Montgomery Avenue near 12th Street. The student housing complex emailed her a couple days ago to announce that its social areas, including its gym and lounges, would be closed until April 30 in light of the spread of COVID-19.

While she agrees that the social areas should be closed, Zapiec thinks she should not have to pay full rent for March and April.

“I’m looking to possibly get a rent reduction,” Zapiec said. “Because if I’m paying rent and I can’t use the amenities, then?” 

The Goldenberg Group, which owns The View, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Isaac Colon, a sophomore media film and media arts major, moved home to Palmyra, Pennsylvania, after receiving the Division of Student Affairs’ March 16 email, he said. He is negotiating termination of his lease or at least a reduction to pay his $780 a month rent at Oxford Village, an independent student housing complex on 15th Street near Oxford. 

With the university’s closure, he lost his student worker job at the Film and Media Arts department office and now has no income to pay his rent, Colon said.

“It’s not fair for us to be essentially penalized for something that we really had no control over,” he added.“…I’m kind of in this position where, you know, do I stay because I’m still gonna have to pay or do I go home and still have to spend, you know, for the remainder of the semester close to $3,000 on something that I’m not even using.”

RISE, a real estate company which owns Oxford Village, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Oxford Village, an off-campus student housing complex on 15th Street near Oxford, is a popular apartment option for Temple students. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Griffin Hammer, a senior advertising major, moved from his apartment in Oxford Village Apartments back to his home in Lititz, Pennsylvania after classes moved online. He is also frustrated that Oxford Village will not allow him to end his lease in light of the situation, he said. 

“The only reason the majority of people live in that building, and many of these other buildings is because they go to Temple,” Hammer said. “Now that classes have been moved online completely … it’s just a little bit ridiculous, I just can’t believe there’s no leeway.”

Since he is partially financially supported by his family, whose income is also being affected by the pandemic, Hammer is not certain he will be able to pay his rent next month, he said.

“Every month, I scramble to come up with money,” Hammer said. “Making rent every month is a stressor anyways.”

As for Franck, she originally planned to stay to work at her full-time job at the Four Seasons Hotel, and even though her job is now on a two-week leave, she still plans to stay off-campus for the rest of the semester.

“I’m staying in my apartment because I pay rent here,” Franck added. “I take full responsibility of my finances, so I’m gonna live in my apartment.”

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