Students circulate petition for housing relief

By Cilicia Anderson
Outlook Writer

College students that live off campus in Tallahassee want Gov. Ron DeSantis to intervene by helping them get some relief with the cost of housing.

Students from FSU, FAMU and TCC have indicated through a petition that they need the governor’s help because of financial hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The petition was started by University of Central Florida student Dianne Barros. It was circulating statewide by social media. Barros started the petition April 1 and as of last Friday, 9,795 students, including those who are local residents, have signed it.

Barros, a junior at the UCF, majoring in computer science, said she intended to forward the petition to the governor’s office last Monday.

Students who live at the Alight West Tenn apartment complex have been promised some credits along with not having to pay for some amenities that they can’t use.
Photo courtesy Alight West Tenn

“Once we reached 5,000 we thought that would be enough to get the governor’s attention but we’ve been sitting here watching the number go up,” Barros said. “Florida representatives Carlos Smith and Anna Eskamani wrote letters to DeSantis asking him to work with students, which I don’t think would have happened without the petition.”

On Monday, Congressman Al Lawson sent a letter to several companies that lease property in Florida. He asked them to work with students who might be attempting to get out of their leases.

 “It is unfair, while colleges and universities are temporarily shifting their instruction online during this pandemic and offering refunds on housing and meal plans, that these leasing companies are unfairly demanding students to pay their leases in full and burdening them with additional student debt,” Lawson wrote in a statement. “We all need to show compassion in these troubling times, and I hope these companies chose to do so.

Meanwhile, Alight West Tenn, one of several student apartment complexes in Tallahassee, promised to issue some credits to tenants. In an email to students, the complex management said they won’t have to pay for some amenities that they can’t use.

Tenants were notified by Anthony Curcio, resident service manager at the property.

“To fulfill our obligation toward public health and under government directives, we had to close many resident amenity spaces in late March, which remain close today,” Curcio wrote. “While we are continuing to provide all apartments, utilities and essential services, we recognize it is not fair to you, as the customer, to have to pay extra specifically for amenities we are unable to offer you at this time.”

However, Barros and many other students find themselves looking for relief on the cost of housing after they lost their part-time jobs. Students traditionally are employed by mostly restaurants and department stores. While some department stores are open with shorter hours, DeSantis has issued a statewide shut down on restaurants.

“I have two brothers who also go to UCF and two of us aren’t able to work because of the coronavirus,” Barros said. “We all came back to our dad’s and he told us he won’t be able to help pay for our rent for the summer”

Housing in Tallahassee is not cheap for college students. Most live in multi-unit apartments, with the average rate per students being just over $400. In some cases, that may not include utilities that average less than $100 a month.

To make ends meet, some students rely on food stamps and assistance from their parents.

Jordan Revelo is an exception.

“I don’t work and I haven’t experienced any hardships due to rent,” Revelo said. ”My parents pay for the rent and they are able to pay for it so they are fine but they feel as if it’s unjust for the people who don’t have the ability to pay for it right now.”

Meanwhile, some apartment complexes are attempting to make payments easier for students. Options include partial weekly payments and waiving online processing fees.

In spite of the reprieve on making full payments, some students have been attempting to opt-out of their lease agreement by seeking tenants willing to sublease from them. Several of them have been making their offers on Facebook.