On Oct. 29, 2018, Lehigh University sent an email to students, later rescinded, announcing the demolition of Trembley Park and the loss of upperclassmen on-campus housing. Upon the announcement, many rising juniors signed leases for SouthSide Commons, an apartment complex which is to be constructed by fall 2019. (Courtesy of Lehigh University Website)

A SouthSide controversy: 113 students applied for leases after housing email


Lehigh sent out an email earlier in October informing students that there would be no available housing for upperclassmen during the 2019-20 academic year.

The university recanted its statement two days later, but during those two days, many students signed leases with off-campus housing affiliations because they were fearful of being displaced.

Benjamin Blackwell, ’21, said he and his roommate signed a lease with SouthSide Commons because they were afraid they wouldn’t have a place to live.

“We never received clear communication from the school about the situation, and we still don’t entirely know what’s going on,” Blackwell said.

SouthSide Commons Director of Operations Vickie Fairbairn said after the university retracted its first email, four students came forward asking to cancel their leases.

The four students who came forward pale in comparison to the number of students who actually signed leases during this two-day period — Fairbairn said SouthSide Commons received over 113 lease applications in those 48 hours. These students were given the option to cancel their leases.

Dean of Students Katherine Lavinder said students were given the option to work with her office if they wanted to be released from an off-campus lease — not including SouthSide Commons — that was signed in the two-day period between emails.

“In the first few days after the email, we were hearing a lot of feedback from students that they felt pressure to sign leases, which is where the messaging stemmed from inviting students who had concerns about being locked into a situation to come to us for support,” Lavinder said.

However, she said no students have requested her office’s assistance.

Lavinder said some students may be content with their leases, knowing they have a set place to live next year.

“It’s hard to say if we’re not hearing from anyone because people are working things out independently or if they’re happy with where they are and are planning to stay put,” she said. “I think and I hope that people are feeling more comfortable with where they landed, despite a process that did not go as it should have.”

Blackwell said he wishes he wasn’t rushed into a decision like this, especially since he was interested in applying to become a Gryphon.

“We have our lease available to sign in SouthSide Commons, but we still would prefer to go through the lottery system and live on campus,” he said.

Fairbairn shot down the notion that the only reason SouthSide Commons will have enough business next year is because of the original housing email that misled upperclassmen about housing options. In fact, all studio, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments were leased before the email was sent to students.

“There was a significant amount of generated interest in SouthSide Commons well before the email came out,” Fairbairn said. “We began receiving applications for leases back in April, and continued to receive them well into the fall.”

Blackwell said he plans on sticking with his lease for now, despite the fact that SouthSide Commons comes with a higher price tag than most on-campus alternatives.

“It seems like now we are just going to live in SouthSide Commons and find a way to afford it since nothing else seems reliable right now,” Blackwell said.

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