The UF Student Government Executive Committee approved a bill Friday to allocate $500,000 from the SG reserves account for off-campus rent relief.
The bill is meant to subsidize rent payments for students with off-campus residences, Student Body President Trevor Pope wrote in an email to The Alligator. It is meant to cover payments through the end of students’ rental agreements and outstanding payments from March, April or May.
Applications and qualifications for the funds are still being determined, he said, and he is hoping to have more information Wednesday.
During the executive committee meeting, Pope said that students who have already received rent relief funds from Aid-a-Gator, a fund to assist UF students facing financial hardships in emergency situations, will not be eligible for the new aid.
“I'll also be working closely with financial affairs to really streamline this process for rent relief,” he said in the meeting. “To ensure that students who are receiving rent relief from Aid-a-Gator are not double dipping and also receiving these funds as well.”
Later Pope wrote in his email to The Alligator that students who receive funds from Aid-a-Gator can still receive financial support from this transfer.
“We just wanted to ensure that if Aid-A-Gator already covered the entirety of someone’s rent for, let’s say, the month of June, then they’re not also receiving rent money from SG for that same month,” he wrote.
SG wants the money to supplement Aid-A-Gator and reach as many students as it can, he wrote.
The bill must be approved by the Budget and Appropriations Committee, a group of senators that decide what legislation concerning SG finances goes before the Senate for a vote.
If the bill is passed by the Budget and Appropriations Committee, then it must be passed twice in the Senate. The Senate meets every Tuesday night during the semester. The first Senate meeting for Summer is May 12.
Leftover funds and “revenues collected in excess of budget” make up the SG reserves account. The money can only go toward single-use expenditures, rather than recurring costs, and is only accessible after a law is written and passed in Senate, according to Senate codes. There was more than $4.3 million dollars in the SG reserves account as of March 11.
This is the first time the committee, composed of Student Body President Trevor Pope, Vice President Lauredan Official and Treasurer Jessica Jesurajan, has met since the administration officially entered office April 22. The bill, co-authored by former senator Branden Pearson, is the first legislation Pope has written as acting president.
The university encouraged students to return to their hometowns in March and transitioned to remote instruction after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that four UF students tested positive for COVID-19.
Since then, all Summer classes have moved online, and the start of Fall semester was postponed. Businesses had to temporarily close their doors, and more than 11,000 people signed a Change.org petition asking local apartment complexes to offer rent relief.
Sen. Zachariah Chou (Inspire, Murphree) encouraged students in a mass email to rent strike, or collectively refuse to pay rent until landlords met their demands. He sent the message on behalf of Gainesville Housing Justice, a group of students and locals that assembled to help people who don’t want to pay their rents now.
But Pope said that students should not stop paying rent.
“Our administration deemed it integral to our student body’s future success that students do not breach their lease agreements,” Pope wrote in an email to The Alligator.
Failing to pay rent could impact students negatively by harming their credit score, and reflect negatively on applications for jobs or applications for professional licenses such as those needed to become a lawyer, he wrote.
“There are few things more important than the future success of our students, which is why Student Government decided to intervene,” he wrote.
Although he finds $500,000 dollars inadequate, Chou said he thinks some action is better than nothing. He thinks, with more than $4 million in the SG reserves, that SG should transfer at least $1 million.
“Now I wouldn’t call it a strong step forward, but at least it's a step forward that helps some people,” he said. “But on a whole, I would argue that the amount allocated is pitiful and just goes to show that they truly do not understand the amount of unmet needs in the current community.”
Pope wrote in an email that the dollar amount was determined while considering average rent prices, how many students live off-campus, the number of students that moved home compared with the number that stayed in Gainesville and “the potential students who would be eligible for these funds.”
He did not answer questions concerning the source of this information or the specific numeric values for these considerations.
“Our team put extensive time and effort into coming to a conclusion with respect to the dollar figure we would be transferring,” he wrote. “After multiple conversations with Off-Campus Housing, Student Legal Services, and the Vice President of Student Affairs, we felt as though the amount of half a million dollars struck a balance between accommodating for students showing an expression of need and Student Government’s reserves.”
The $15.5 million federal grant the university recently received for students was considered when creating this transfer, Pope wrote.
“The present reserve transfer is not the end-all-be-all for students receiving funds for rent relief,” he wrote. “Instead, it will act as a supplement (except earmarked for rent payments) to the federal grant which will be allocated to students soon.”