Across from Trembley Park, the construction team has continued to work on the Bridge West housing project, which broke ground over winter break. Bridge West is set to open in fall 2020.(Devon Saturnia/B&W Staff)

Reflecting back and looking forward: housing at Lehigh

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After an email was sent out by Housing Services in late October 2018 about the demolition of Trembley Park and subsequently eliminated on-campus housing for upperclassmen, it caused confusion and concern among students over their living situations.

Brian Lucas, ’22, said he remembers a close friend of his bawling her eyes out one night because she didn’t know where she was going to live.

After the initiation of “Path to Poverty,” a movement that demonstrated students’ frustration and needs for greater transparency in housing plans, the email was revoked and referred to as a “mistake.”

Chloe Sider, ’21, was directly involved in creating the Path to Poverty movement.

Sider said when the email came out saying that housing would not be provided for all students, a lot of politically active students on campus and low-income students who can’t afford off-campus housing gathered together to set up a protest. They sent out emails to high-level administrators and invited all to come.

“That’s where that huge discussion kind of started,” Sider said.

Vickie Fairbairn, the community manager for SouthSide Commons, said it was always in the Path to Prominence plan to create Bridge West, which meant tearing down Trembley Park, but no one knew when that was going to happen.

Fairbairn said she thinks it took people by surprise that it was going to be next year.

Christina D’Aversa, the associate director of Housing Services, said that all third-, fourth- and fifth-year students who requested housing have been accommodated.

“This year, we saw a decrease in the amount of on-campus housing because of the increase in the (size of the) first-year class, but we were still able to accommodate,” D’Aversa said.

Fairbairn said SouthSide Commons compares itself only to the “Category Four” housing options at Lehigh which include Trembley Park, Sayre and Farrington Square. Category Four housing was $4,615 per semester in the 2018-2019 academic year, the highest rate out of the four categories.

Fairbairn also said it was announced the Friday before spring break that need-based financial aid students can apply for a grant through financial aid to get an award equal to the difference between Category Four housing and SouthSide Commons.

“We’re happy to be here with the university,” Fairbairn said. “We hope the students are excited to live with us.”

The introduction of SouthSide Commons, which is set to open for the 2019-2020 school year, made the lottery system seamless this year, she said.

D’Aversa said 167 spaces were available for juniors and seniors, and they only had 143 people apply for on-campus housing.

Compared to last year, there were 350 juniors and seniors in the lottery system for 310 spaces. Forty students were put on the wait list and were offered housing by the end of the summer, D’Aversa said.

“There were years where we would break even or years like last year where we needed to put people on the waiting list,” D’Aversa said. “The numbers really fluctuate year to year.”

However, she said they’ve never had a situation where they haven’t been able to offer students on the waiting list housing.

Fairbairn said there was a high demand for the SouthSide Commons apartments when the initial housing email was sent out. She said they took all the applications between the time the first email was released announcing the elimination of housing for upperclassmen students and the second email revoking that decision, but refunded anyone who signed during the two-day period if they wished to pull out.

Fairbairn said 11 people asked for and received refunds, one of whom has re-signed.

The apartments at SouthSide Commons are 67 percent sold for next year. Fairbairn said they’re continuing to lease but have 260 signed out of a 428-person occupancy as of now.

She said they’re continuing to sell to the graduate population of students, who might just be finding out they got into Lehigh’s graduate school, as well as transfer students and re-admits.

SouthSide Commons is about $100 more per month compared to their Category Four apartment-style houses, Fairbairn said.

The four-bedroom apartments are $1,069 per month for a lease from August-May or $999 per month for an August-July lease.

The apartments come standard with a washer, dryer, dishwasher and microwave and rent includes all utilities, gas, cable and internet.

“If you look at the black and white of the numbers, there is an expense difference between our Category Four and SouthSide Commons, but you have to take other things into account,” D’Aversa said.

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