Residential Programs and Services announced Wednesday that IU will lease the entirety of the Avenue on College Apartments, previously known as Smallwood on College Apartments, for the 2020-21 school year.
RPS Interim Director Luke Leftwich said the deal is part of an effort to expand off-campus housing options for IU’s expanding student population. Leftwich said renting through RPS provides streamlined payment through the bursar that incorporates student aid as well as amenities like RAs and study areas, creating an environment similar to dorm living.
“For us, it’s much more about trying to continue to connect the community with a student experience that a student would not have if they were in a landlord-tenant relationship,” Leftwich said.
RPS’s involvement with Avenue on College started this year in response to multiple residence halls closing for renovations. A lack of transparency throughout the process has caused issues, according to some tenants.
Mitchell Black, Avenue resident and sophomore, said he had planned to sign a lease through the Avenue to stay in his current room this summer while pursuing local jobs to bolster his resume. Black said he contacted RPS and the Avenue multiple times since September, and the staff confirmed RPS’s plans to leave the building, meaning he would be allowed to stay.
However, since RPS will be leasing his apartment rather than the Avenue under the new agreement, he said he is not allowed to stay in his room because IU’s contracts terminate at the end of the second semester.
“If I was told that RPS would be staying here next year, I likely would have tried to find another place to live,” Black said.
Leftwich said students were not notified of this deal until late in the semester because of the complexity of the negotiation process, which had to be approved by many different departments and could not be discussed until it was completely finalized.
Residents also said there have been problems with communication in the past. Grace Hager, Avenue resident and senior, said she had to move floors this year after renewing her lease because RPS claimed the floor she had previously lived on. Hager said the communication surrounding this arrangement was abrupt and unexpected.
“They pretty much forced us to move from last year,” Hager said. “It ended up being the exact same apartment, so it was fine. It wasn’t our contract, and it was in their right, but at the time I was very annoyed.”
Twinkle Shah, former community assistant at the Avenue and junior, said some amenities promised in residents’ contracts were unfulfilled this year due to shortcomings in the building’s management. She said there were unannounced renovations that limited use of the building and a lack of promised parking spaces.
Shah said the complicated leasing situations made it hard for the Avenue to communicate clearly. For example, she said when RPS leased part of the building last year, there was a period of time where employees knew the deal would likely happen but were not allowed to tell anyone because it wasn’t finalized. Shah said this spread of misinformation contributed to her decision to quit her job there.
“I felt like at that time I was lying to them because the IU contract was still in the workings of it, and we were still telling other people that ‘Yeah, there’s plenty of space, you guys can totally live here,’” Shah said. “Then before they knew it, there was an IU contract, and they weren’t able to live here anymore.”
Leftwich agreed the situation put Avenue employees in a tough position of knowing negotiations were in the process but being unable to communicate this to residents.
“I don’t know that they could have really walked away and said, ‘We’re not sure yet,’ without having an uprising,” Leftwich said. “They’re in a real tough spot with that, as were we, to not be able to communicate authentically.”
Leftwitch said the student experience through RPS will be better next year.
“We did go through a lot of a learning curve,” Leftwich said. “This is our first time into that space, and it was a little bit of a different approach when you had students that were expecting to be on campus that were moved off campus.”
Avenue Executive Director Kendra Muller said she looks forward to the partnership in an email statement.
"We look forward to an expanded partnership with IU RPS to better serve and provide a student housing community living environment that will enhance residents college experience," Muller said. "Any rentals for the 2020-2021 academic year will be through IU RPS. We have provided our residents and prospective residents with this information as well as the appropriate parties to contact."
Black said this situation has caused him to lose trust in RPS.
“RPS misinformed me and broke a contract with me,” Black said. “If that can happen to me, it can happen to you, and it doesn’t matter that it’s specifically this situation with the Avenue. It can happen with anything RPS does.”
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