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Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Courtney Sgaliardich was one of the last students to leave her off-campus dorm, Windsor Hall,  after UF transitioned classes online. Although she wanted to stay in Gainesville, she said she didn’t feel safe being alone in the dorm after her hallmates left, so she moved back in with family in West Palm Beach.

And now, she’s paying rent for a place where she doesn’t live, and she’s struggling to keep up with her expenses, she said.

“It feels like my money is just not really going anywhere,” the 19-year-old UF business administration sophomore said.

UF moved classes online in the Spring because of COVID-19, and many students have moved back to their hometowns. Since then, UF announced that all Summer classes would be online, and students will return to campus in Fall.

But those who lived off-campus are still paying rent for their apartments.

When Sgaliardich heard UF Student Government was working on a bill that would provide rent relief, she said she was looking forward to applying.

Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would transfer $500,000 from the SG reserve account to provide rent relief to students. This came after students who returned to their hometowns petitioned apartment complexes for financial support, and one student senator encouraged students to rent strike

The application opened Wednesday on the SG website. Students are eligible to receive up to $500, and the funds may take up to 45 days to disperse, according to the website.

Students must include “relevant documentation,” such as documentation of leases or unemployment, to show need. If students have received other forms of financial aid, that may impact their eligibility for rent relief funds, the website says.

The application closes May 29 at 5 p.m., according to the website.

Student Body President Trevor Pope, a co-author of the bill, said the transfer would help students pay for any outstanding payments from March to May. Not paying rent would cause negative consequences, Pope said, and this bill will help ensure students don’t hurt their credit scores and future job applications.

Sgaliardich depends on financial aid to pay for most of her tuition and housing because her father is disabled and unable to work, she said, and she is struggling to afford her usual expenses now.

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Normally she would get a job to help pay for her tuition, she said, but it’s difficult to find businesses that are hiring because of COVID-19. 

Contemporary Management Concepts Apartments, which manages Windsor Hall, told Sgaliardich that they would be cleaning more often because of COVID-19, but they did not offer any financial help. She emailed them asking for financial support and did not receive a response, she said.

Adding hours for cleaning staff is costly, Sgaliardich said. She’d rather the company use those funds to cut the price for rent in half.

“If more people were living there, it would make sense to take more precaution and clean,” she said. “However, it's just like they're paying people to do more but like they're not doing anything for us.”

Sgaliardich also signed and shared the petition asking landlords for rent relief, and she said she hopes it gathers more attention. But the rent relief bill would help a lot of students, she said, and plans to apply for the funds.

“You're lucky if you have the financials to pay for your school and your rent, but that's not always the case,” she said.

Naomi Shields, a 21-year-old UF statistics senior, is also paying rent in a place where she no longer lives.

Shields went back to her parents’ home in Orlando after she was furloughed from her job at the Gainesville YMCA, which shut down due to COVID-19. Before the pandemic, she used money from her job and her family to pay for her rent.

Her parents are still supporting her, but now she has had to use her savings to cover her portion of the rent, she said. 

Although she plans on applying for SG rent relief, she’s not sure if it will be worthwhile because she doesn’t think that $500,000will be enough to help all students who need the money.

“I don’t think that’s enough, personally, to actually make that big of a difference,” she said.

When deciding to allocate $500,000, Pope wrote in an email to The Alligator that SG needed “to preserve a healthy reserve account” in case enrollment were to fall. The SG reserve account, an account that collects leftover funds at the end of the year, had more than $4.3 million as of March 11.

“This half a million struck a balance between both accommodating for student’s needs and balancing our reserve account,” he wrote.

However, there are only 99 less freshmen registered to attend UF this Fall than the previous year, according to UF spokesperson Steve Orlando.

Shields also said it would help students if landlords would defer rent payments if possible, especially for students who might already be in debt.

“It sucks that we’re all stuck in this situation, not necessarily being able to pay for our rent,” she said.

On Sunday, the SG Senate Judiciary Committee failed an authorization that would have directed the Housing Affairs Cabinet, a group of Senators that help with student housing, to require that student apartment complexes freeze rent increases, waive late fees or do some other action that would help students.

The authorization, which is a type of bill that tells the executive committee to take action on something, would have prohibited apartment complexes that don’t help students from participating in future Student Housing Fairs. The fairs are held twice a year by the Housing Affairs Cabinet to help students explore off-campus living options

The committee failed it after discussing “implications,”Seth Longland (Gator, Public Health and Health Professions) said during the Judiciary meeting. Longland did not respond to The Alligator’s request for comment to explain what the implications were.

Students can also apply for access to aid to help with expenses related to COVID-19 through Aid-a-Gator, UF’s emergency funding program, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Aid-a-Gator and CARES both have a maximum grant of $1000. But even with funding from these programs, students may still be in need of money because of COVID-19 layoffs, unexpected travel and other emergency expenses.

London Muralles, a 21-year-old UF nursing senior, went back home to St. Cloud, Florida, because the rest of her roommates left, she said. But she’s still paying for her rent at The Niche.

Changes from COVID-19 have added up, she said. Muralles incurred about $80 in unexpected gas expenses from making the two-hour drive home twice, she said. And she had to replace her broken laptop to continue her classes online, she said. 

Muralles said she planned to get work experience and income from a summer job working as a nursing assistant, but because of the safety risks from COVID-19, her plan won’t pan out.

“With money being tighter, it's hard to have to pay that when I'm not even using it,” she said.

Muralles applied for and received funding from Aid-a-Gator already, but she said she would benefit from the SG rent relief funds too.

“I think it’s a good use of funding,” she said. “That’s something that everyone would agree with, is that it’s a good place to send funding."

Contact Meghan at Follow her on Twitter @meggmcglone.

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Meghan McGlone

Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.

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