When the 2020 COVID-19 stimulus package was announced, it was clear college students would be on the short end of the receiving stick. To make matters worse, students would also be subject to predatory off-campus housing practices with no champions in the Florida government.
When the Board of Governors announced last month that all Florida universitieswould immediately transition to remote and online instruction until at least the fall, many students living in on-campus facilities were given some form of a refund and sent back home to their parents. Meanwhile, other students residing in off-campus housing would remain trapped in unavoidable lease agreements.
“I did come back because of my lease and because of my rent,” Branden Moise said. “I’m not going to be paying rent for a place that I am not staying in. I have no classes during the summer, so I really have no reason to be here other than the fact that I have an apartment here.”
Moise’s on-campus employment ends at the start of May, and due to COVID-19 his job search seems to be going nowhere. The closing of all non-essential businesses has made it increasingly more difficult to find safe employment opportunities.
“We are college students, we can’t be expected to pay for things, especially given the circumstances where the coronavirus has shut down people’s places of work,” he said. “A lot of us work at the mall or something like that. Now the mall is closed, and you can’t find another job somewhere.”
Moise is a senior at Florida A&M University. He is on track to graduate in December, but thinks his family would be more financially stable if he returned to his permanent residence in Broward County. Unfortunately, despite requests from state Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, a 29-year-old Democrat from Orange County, to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, the government has done very little to intervene on behalf of Florida’s college students.
“For health safety and economic reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic has also forced many college and university students who live off-campus to return home, often to the permanent residence of a parent or guardian,” Eskamani said. “In fact, it has come to our attention that students across the state of Florida are consistently being denied the opportunity to terminate their off-campus housing leases early without any reasonable accommodations during this declared state of emergency.”
FAMU student Taylor Gent traveled internationally for spring break and returned to her permanent residence in St. Petersburg, but has not resided in her off-campus housing since the start of social distancing.
She says that her living expenses are minimal at her parents’home, but her leasing company will not allow the termination of her lease or add any credits to her account.
“The only thing that I do still pay is my rent,” she said, “They would constantly send us emails that rent was to be paid, so I just left it alone.”