Billing mishap causes hardships & confusion

Students speak out against East Campus housing crisis

A new housing option for East Campus residents became available over the summer, where students could opt for a two-bedroom apartment with only two residents. 

Eighty five students who had selected this new housing option received emails on Oct. 3 stating their rent was being adjusted and they may receive additional rent charges and/or adjustments to their RentCafe account. This change sparked fear and anxiety among the affected students.  

California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) Associated Students (AS) President David Ledesma called an executive board special session on Oct. 6 to discuss concerns surrounding East Campus Housing. Ledesma explained the discussion would act as a way for students to express their concerns while also finding a resolution that is “favorable to the students.” 

Some affected students, President Vanya Quiñones, concerned staff and representatives from housing attended the meeting.

“Within the CSU, research funded by the office of the Chancellor has revealed that 10.9% of CSU students experience homelessness one or more times in a 12-month period. We risk driving that number up,” Ledesma stated. “CSUMB has been ranked fourth in terms of social mobility by US News. We risk dropping in that ranking. We risk attrition which will be detrimental to our university’s operations. Students have expressed they feel their livelihoods are at stake and they feel failed by the institution.”

East Campus student resident Emilia Lepe was first to speak. She explained her rate had “more than doubled” and she felt confused because she was promised a Rate Lock. 

“So I felt, you know, really scared that I was gonna end up homeless during midterms,” Lepe said. “I see a lot of disconnect between the missions of the campus and how students are being treated through housing.”

AS Diversity & Inclusion Senator, Mad Bolander also expressed concerns. Bolander explained they were recently made aware that those who were affected by the rate change would be able to seek alternative housing, but was questioning how this would be possible with housing at 99% capacity.

“Housing has a reputation for excellent customer service. However, communication for rent change and the breaking up Rate Locks came out three days after rent was due and those who were enrolled in autopay were charged without any sense of knowledge that they’d be overcharged, so to say. And I’m just confused, feeling as though there isn’t a sense of advocacy for students’ needs and wondering how at all possible any reparations will be made,” Bolander questioned.

President Quiñones spoke over Zoom and tried to provide some clarity to the students, first apologizing for the error and acknowledging how scary it is for the students.

“We are going to postpone all billing corrections right now until we have a clear system of how much is due by each of the students,” she said. “So we will follow up with each of the students that are affected and figure out how we’re gonna work together to ensure that this is corrected.”

Because of the introduction of a new housing type in Frederick Park, there was a software error where students were being charged less than they were supposed to be. This new housing type also did not qualify for Rate Lock.

Quiñones explained the September rates were not correct and students were paying “much less than what they were supposed to be charged” according to their contracts. “So we are not increasing the rent,” she said “I really want to emphasize that there is no increase in the rent. There is a correction on a billing error.”

Lepe expressed that herself and other students she had spoken to felt they were not properly informed they would be exiting their Rate Lock. 

“Going through past emails sent out by reservation days for the 2022 – 2023 academic year, email newsletters dedicated entirely to Rate Lock have no explanation of points of exit of Rate Lock. It only says you will exit Rate Lock if you opt out, not if you choose a new housing type,” she said. “So to keep referring to it that the students were well informed of their decision to leave Rate Lock, I think is just wrong.”

Lepe expressed it was not communicated effectively during the application period and that students trying to access their initial applications are not able to. 

Bolander had also expressed frustration toward the way the issue surrounding rent was communicated to students earlier in the discussion, questioning how housing found themself in this situation and stating there was an “air of arrogance” because housing claims to have excellent customer service, yet these discrepancies still happened.

“We were not aware of this situation until two days ago and we’re working really hard to address this issue,” Quiñones said. “I hear you about the communication. I’m not happy about it. We will work to ensure that the communication system is improved and we will work together to ensure we address this issue.” 

While the email only applied to 85 East Campus residents, hundreds of students had initially received the email due to a system error, contributing to students and staff alike feeling the situation was communicated poorly. 

The Academic Senate Vice Chair Maria Bellumori supported the students. “I agree with you that what was communicated is really scary and I’ve heard from a lot of my students about concerns regarding this, which is why I’m here and I’m feeling very doubtful that this information was actually communicated to students when they signed up for housing.”

Bellumori explained the school has been operating on a Rate Lock system for many years and called for the administration to look back through communications with students and make sure they were informed of the rates when they chose their housing.

Student Housing and Residential Life Director W. Jeff Cooper explained they have been working to provide more detail of the differences between each housing option and that the housing licenses and rates are public domain, meaning anyone should be able to find them by navigating under resources to licenses and forms.

“We do know that one of the real situations going on with this is that regardless of where we have arrived today, some students are finding themselves perhaps not able to afford the two-person rate,” said Cooper. “So we are going to work with those students to either move them to three- person apartments, or convert their apartment to a three- person apartment.”

Cooper also explained housing had opted to make this change because of significant requests from students to have housing options with less roommates, even if it entailed a higher rate.

The students called for action, wanting to see the contracts and evidence that the new room types would not transfer into Rate Lock. 

“My commitment is that I’m going to investigate this,” said Quiñones. “We’re going to work together and I’m going to show that it’s going to be resolved.”

Some students were still dissatisfied after the meeting held by AS. A small group of around 10 individuals gathered outside of the housing office on main campus for a sit-in protest. They stayed outside of the housing office in tents overnight on Friday Oct. 7.

The CSUMB Students for Quality Education called to action on their Instagram, “Thanks to everyone who came out to make their voices heard. It’s important to have solidarity with each other always and to come out to defend the rights and humanity of all CSUMB students, especially the most vulnerable.” 

Affected students will be contacted within the next two weeks.

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