Sarina Phipps lives with a quarter of her belongings at the Holiday Inn. When the rush of game day weekends arrives, and the hotel becomes overbooked, she quickly gathers a small bag of everything she owns and stays at a friend’s place.
During the day, she scrambles from classes to involvements, finding time whenever possible to study for upcoming midterms. All the while, thoughts of where she can sleep at night weighing on her mind.
“I literally feel homeless sometimes because I walk around with like a little trash bag full of clothes,” Phipps, a 20-year-old UF industrial and systems engineering junior, said.
This has been Phipp’s and many students’ realities since they were told by Sweetwater Gainesville Apartments, days before their move-in day Aug. 10, the apartment wouldn’t be ready.
Sweetwater, which has marketed itself as “dreamy” student living near UF, has delayed its move-in for future residents for a third time.
The apartment complex announced Aug. 10 move-in would be delayed and at the latest, residents would be able to move in by Sept. 7.
Another announcement was made in an email to residents Aug. 30, stating that the projected move-in days would be Sept. 14 and Sept. 15.
Sweetwater then posted another update on its website Sept. 12.
“At this point, based on our progress with inspections, we regret to inform you that move-in will be at the latest on September 29, 2023,” the update read.
Sweetwater provided two options of reimbursement for applicable residents in an email.
The first would provide $200 in the form of a gift card or rent credit per day provided until a unit is ready for move-in, abated rent and reimbursement in the form of a rent credit up to $500 for any travel, moving or storage costs incurred due to delayed move-in.
The second option offered assigned hotel accommodations until a unit is ready, abated rent and reimbursement in the form of a rent credit up to $500 for any travel, moving or storage costs incurred due to delayed move-in.
Phipps decided she would take the money, and in the worst case scenario, she could use the money to pay for a hotel room, she said.
As an out-of-state student, she couldn’t go home. At first she stayed with friends, moving to a new place every two or three days. Then, her friend, who was also displaced due to the Sweetwater situation, reached out and asked her to stay at the Holiday Inn with her.
“We thought maybe two weeks max, and we can do this for two weeks,” she said.
When Phipps learned about the Sept. 29 extension, she went down to the Holiday Inn front desk, and, as she had done after the previous delays, asked for an extension to her stay. Staff informed her that the hotel would be completely booked until the last week of September.
Phipps was told about the delay by email Sept. 12 at 9:49 p.m. She was kicked out of the Holiday Inn Sept. 14, she said.
The Holiday Inn is not disclosing information or giving out official comments on the Sweetwater situation at this time.
“I feel so overwhelmed that I'm just like, ‘Whatever,’ because it's out of my control,’” Phipps said. “It's not like I can do anything about it.”
Ella Cimino, a 19-year-old UF animal science sophomore, was supposed to move into Sweetwater on the original move-in date.
She feels misled by Sweetwater, and the stress has affected her mental health and grades, she said.
Cimino said she hasn’t received her $200 credit as promised by Sweetwater since Aug. 25 and was charged for August and September rent.
“I set up an auto payment that would clear my balance on the first of every month,” Cimino wrote. “I didn’t remove it when all of this started because I believed they wouldn’t charge me as they stated in the email. But now I have paid for two months rent at an apartment that isn’t even finished.”
“I am fed up with Sweetwater and just want somewhere stable to live,” Cimino wrote.
Last school year, when UF English senior Mariana Mejia visited the Sweetwater office for a tour, she fell in love with the amenities, location and daily free coffee.
It was pretty easy to sign the lease, the 21-year-old said.
She received an email about the delay Aug. 4, but the email stated her unit was not impacted. She was sent a link to sign up for her move-in time and coordinated with U-Haul to have a vehicle ready.
“It said only a couple apartments were affected, and then in bold my email said ‘Your unit is not affected by this delay,’” she said.
She found out through a Facebook group, Sweetwater Apartments Gainesville Parent Group, that her move-in day was delayed. When she called Sweetwater to ask if it was true, they confirmed that the date had been moved to Sept. 7.
She quickly had to find a hotel and storage unit for her belongings.
The move-out day for her old apartment in Century Town Center was Aug. 25, but her parents helped her move out furniture Aug. 22. With nowhere to stay, she planned to sleep on the floor of the apartment.
“Thankfully, my friends who were helping me move my stuff out were like, ‘No, you're not sleeping on the floor,’” Mejia said.
She stayed with her friends for two nights, and booked a room at Hotel Eleo.
Mejia condensed all of her belongings into one suitcase and a duffel bag. She created a system to keep her sweatshirts in her car and things she really needed in the suitcase.
The hotel’s location and valet situation led to her having to order an Uber or asking a friend for a ride to get in and out of campus. She was only supposed to stay until Sept. 8 but had to book an extra weekend after the delay to Sept. 29.
She felt like she was in a warped version of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, she said.
Mejia decided to move out of Eleo and find a more permanent situation after she learned the room rate could jump to $800 a night on weekends. She now lives at StadiumHouse with family friends.
At first, Mejia found the situation amusing and funny, but the latest delay announcement really hurt, she said.
She was in the office two days before the announcement and noticed the employees were coordinating move-in packets.
“I assumed the people working here are getting ready for move-in; it's going to happen,” she said. “And then two days later, when I saw the email, I was like, ‘Are you serious?’”
While her professors have been understanding, the situation has made her schoolwork and extracurricular activities more challenging.
“I think it was hard because classes are actually picking up. I'm having exams now and essays being due. And just trying to get to campus on time,” she said. “I don't think I've ever had a place to feel at home because I didn't even [feel at home] at the hotel.”
Mejia also misses her puppy, Lorenzo, who she got for her birthday. Lorenzo has been with her parents in Boca Raton, Florida, since summer. She thought when she moved out of Century Town Center and into Sweetwater, they would be reunited.
“My dog's been with my family for like months now, and he's a puppy, so I'm missing his puppy years,” she said. “That made me really sad.”
Students across Gainesville are dealing with the added pressure of figuring out their living situation while attending classes and studying for exams. Now that the move-in day has been set to Sept. 29, some are hopeful and others worry there may be another delay in their future.
“I think if I get another email delay, I'm actually going to break down because I can't do it anymore,” Mejia said.
Melanie Peña is a second-year business and journalism major. When she's not designing a graphic or writing an article, she's probably making jewelry or exploring coffee shops in Gainesville.
Vivienne Serret is a UF journalism and criminology senior, reporting for The Alligator's university desk as the student government reporter and managing editor for The Florida Political Review. She loves debating, lifting at the gym and singing.