Oct 4th, 2022, 08:00 AM

The AUP Housing Crisis for First Years

By Ava Castañeda
A communal area with couches and tables is shown in the Helios common space
The Helios Common Space (Image Credit: Izabella Carter)
Students express dissatisfaction in their experiences with AUP's Housing Office

As roughly 600 students enter courses at AUP for the first time, the role of the Housing Office was to find residence for them. Yet many students were left without a home or basic necessities, while others found themselves in unsafe neighborhoods and a lack of resources. When following up on the help the Housing Office had initially offered, many were met with responses days late and unanswered questions. 

The most prominent issue cited by students is the Housing Office's lack of communication. Before even arriving in Paris students faced difficulties trying to get in contact. “They don't make it the absolute easiest for first years to navigate to get in communication with the people who need to assist us," said first year Chloe Writer about her experience trying to resolve her housing crisis. "It was very stressful.” 

Students say that emails wouldn’t get responses for days at a time, and scheduling meetings was difficult. "The replies take a while even when it is an urgent matter, they are never really available," said first year Ayah Shayeb. "Within the first two weeks there will be [always be] more issues with housing, [yet] there are not as many resources.” 

Mailroom in the Helios Residence (Image Credit: Izabella Carter)

Not only do the students feel the staff's responses weren’t very reliable, weeks prior to the first day of classes, some students were told they needed to find their own apartments due to overbooking. Both Ayah Shayeb and Chloe Writer said they were left to their own devices to find an apartment, despite previously being required to live in AUP housing because of their first year status.

While locating an apartment Shayeb found some of the biggest struggles was the language barrier and the fact she was a foreigner. When she was given the exemption the AUP Housing Office had told her that she could reach out for help if she needed yet when the instance came that wasn’t the case. “They gave me the exemption that I didn’t want, and they didn't really help. I even asked if they could talk [on my behalf] because my French isn't very good and they said they couldn’t do that,” said Shayeb. 

Shayeb was only able to find an apartment a week after school started, after staying in a hotel. She explained that the reason she was able to get her apartment was merely out of coincidence. “The landlord was an Arab woman,  so we related to each other and her colleague was a black man; they both understood the racism that happens in Paris and how difficult it is to find an apartment.” Not only was the process draining for Shayeb, it was also costly. 

Even the students who were able to get housing from AUP found themselves in situations that were filled with problems. Some students did not have electricity or hot water the first weeks, while others had flooding or mold issues. One student, who wished to remain anonymous for worries that it could affect her housing situation further, said, “It was my first college dorm, so I didn't really know what to expect. The lights don't work, [there are] stains on the walls, and it seemed pretty worn down.The sink clogged randomly which has made it hard to brush my teeth.” When the student asked to move into an opening at another AUP housing they were told it was being reserved for issues that were deemed more pressing, specifically safety concerns. 

Other students cited fears about the location of their housing. First year abroad student Natalie Frasier shared her experiences of getting harassed and followed home in the 19th arrondissement as she returned from the late classes. When she and her parents shared their anxieties their emails were left unanswered. Fraiser went directly to administration and met with Vice President Marc Montheard.

“I was only speaking with Mr. Montheard for a few minutes before he redirected me to Jennifer Larsen. In those few minutes, he assured me that this harassment is just a normal occurrence in Paris, and that he cannot do anything," said Frasier. "What is concerning is that Mr. Montheard used air quotes around the word harassment to invalidate my claims and to suggest that the safety issue I was reporting was not real. After correcting him that this harassment was indeed very real, he sent me to talk to [Jennifer Larson, and] I told him [he] was not being responsive to my issues,” said Frasier. 

Appart'City La Villette Residence in the 19th Arrondissement (Image Credit: AUP Website)

In a statement given by Montheard, he said, "I am sorry if Natalie felt that she was not heard, even though I never said, thought or assumed that what Natalie was reporting was not real. If this is the impression I gave her, I deeply regret it." Montheard said that while sexual harassment is both unacceptable and illegal in Paris, it is also common, and that his office takes the issue very seriously. He added that the redirection to the housing office was because of the request for changes in housing situation, and that "the Residential Life Manager is the best person to review what is and is not available with students."

Frasier followed up by explaining how she continued to be disappointed in the school and the Housing Office when she met with Jennifer Larson, the Manager of Residential Life. Larson, instead of switching housing, attempted to redirect her to mental health services, and directed Frasier to return in late October, when her role had been taken over by her successor. "I saw her in very early September. This infuriated me further as I was now being invalidated by a woman as well. Giving a very clear impression my issues were not urgent to her, yet again,” said Frasier about the meeting.

After a meeting between her parent and Montheard, Fraiser found a new apartment outside of AUP housing without permission, and was ensured to have priority next semester. When asked how the Housing Office could improve Frasier said, “I would tell the housing department to believe students and prioritize all students' safety. Because as an adult I shouldn’t have to involve my parents who live in a different continent, to be listened to by the [administration].”

Though students did share their many concerns and disappointments with the Housing Office. One student did share a positive interaction. This student had been having problems with their roommate, which was affecting their mental health. When going to the housing department they said this “They were so willing to understand my situation. also they honestly validated my feelings; [in all honesty] I  felt kinda stupid coming to a housing advisor about my roommate [issues], but they didn’t care, they just wanted to help me.”

At the moment the situation remains unresolved but the Housing Office did offer some reassurance. The student added that, “they said ‘even if switching doesn’t work out, we will help you figure out a new situation, we have some spare beds and we’ll make sure that we get you out of this situation. we won’t just leave you there and have you figure it out.'”

When the AUP Housing Office was asked to comment, they were unable to, citing being understaffed. Jennifer Larson, the office's manager, is in the process of leaving AUP, with a new manager coming in her wake. There is hope that the office will have been able to address all the concerns, but some students feel as if that won't be the case. 

While explaining her story, Chloe Writer, added that her peers from the past years had shared similar experiences. “One of my really good friends came to AUP and had a lot of similar problems with this. They told her next year they would try harder, but they really didn't live up to that.” She also brought up that the school had given the same reason to students last year. “They told her class they were the biggest class they had dealt with, and that would not be the case this year,” said Writer. “In hindsight, I would hope it would get better but it just seems like it's a pattern.” 

Some said the disappointments and struggles in the Housing Office could all be a result of the office being understaffed. Others believed it could be due to the pandemic and this return to normalcy causing a huge influx of students in which this small university was not truly prepared for. Either way, complaints about housing from the student body are not new, and only time will tell if the Housing Office can solve the problems they're faced with.