UGA students in limbo after apartment complex construction delays

ATHENS – When The William at Athens announced its plans to open in August, it seemed like every student’s dream.

Pictures of high luxury apartments with promises of amenities like a rooftop pool and a sky lounge immediately caught the eye. If students weren’t already sold, the location — just minutes away from the University of Georgia’s main campus — had prospective residents signing lease agreements.

But months later, what appeared to be a dream has turned into a nightmare for many students. After three construction delays that displaced students for what will turn into two months in a college town where seemingly all apartments are full, students were left scrambling for places to live. More than 300 students were displaced, according to the university’s student newspaper, The Red & Black.

The complex’s developers declined an interview request, but apologized for the delay in a statement. They noted a survey that found more than 90% of multifamily developers nationwide are experiencing construction delays. They directed renters to nearby hotels for temporary stays and offered to terminate lease agreements. They said they offered students $2,500 gift cards and prorated September rent for the delays. The statement did not say when the complex will open.

The William is the latest example of an off-campus student housing development in Georgia that has opened behind schedule, had crime problems or multiple maintenance issues. In Atlanta, several Georgia State students recently complained that a new off-campus apartment complex marketed to students had appliances that didn’t work and vehicles broken into in its parking lot.

Georgia colleges and universities typically say there’s little they can do to help since the properties aren’t on their campuses. In response to concerns about crimes near its campus, Temple University in Philadelphia recently announced plans to release scorecards for off-campus housing units based on safety and security to help guide its students, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Before The William had announced any of its delays, a few people had their suspicions. One parent, Tracie Williams, was worried about the progress of its construction over the summer when she helped her son move out of his old apartment.

“We decided to ride over and look at how The William was doing,” Williams said. “This is crazy. There’s no way it’s gonna be ready. It was a myth.”

But when Williams and her family voiced their concerns, she said they were assured everything would be taken care of by the move-in date on Aug. 14, three days before classes started.

Some parents and students also had concerns about the lease agreements.

Roseann Gafoor, the mother of an international student from Trinidad and Tobago, was thrown when she was told to pay two months of rent as a down payment. Williams, though, didn’t have to pay a deposit, but master’s student Joshua Wood paid a $400 deposit.

The first delay changed the Aug. 14 move-in date to Sept. 7. The William provided options for students to either find their own accommodations or utilize the hotel accommodations provided by The William — both also included a $500 gift card as well a $30 daily stipend, according to an email obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Those who chose to find their accommodations had their rents waived; those who stayed in the arranged hotels still had to pay their rent.

The Sept. 7 delay was followed by another, this time until Sept. 18. Due to the start of football season and hotels being pre-booked, some students had to change the hotel they were living at while others had to double-up.

On Sept. 16, The William came out with a statement announcing another delay until Oct. 15. They also said that they would be unable to accommodate tenants in hotels after Sept. 17 due to a lack of available rooms. Gafoor’s son arrived back to his hotel to be told he had to leave in a few hours.

“He started to panic, I started to panic,” Gafoor said. “What are we going to do?”

Displaced tenants oftentimes relied on Athenians simply being compassionate for their situation. Athens residents with rental properties reached out to the families of displaced students to provide them with housing.

“I’ve advised them that they should seek legal counsel, as you would anytime you have a contract between two private parties that has not been sufficiently managed and needs to be resolved,” said Kelly Girtz, mayor of Athens-Clarke County.

Those who chose to terminate their leases also agreed to release The William from liability. However, they said they have yet to receive any refunds or correspondence about refunds.

“I don’t know what we’ll do if we don’t get the money back. I would like to think that they will do the right thing,” Williams said. “But no one will tell us what they’re going to do.”

Here’s a statement from the developers of The William in response to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the construction delay:

We sincerely apologize for the issues caused by delays in completion of The William. A recent survey by the National Multifamily Housing Council found that 93 percent of multifamily developers are experiencing construction delays. We have poured additional resources into the project to resolve the remaining issues and get everyone moved into the building. Substantial progress is being made and we hope to have an update for residents as we move toward completion.

The lease signed by residents included a provision to provide alternative housing if there were delays in opening The William.  Prior to the September 18th notice, The William provided students with hotel rooms, gift cards and a per diem as well as a rent discount to help defray expenses. When a shortage of available hotel rooms or other accommodations prevented continuing to house students in local motels, we offered the additional option of terminating their lease.

Our staff made every effort to continue to provide hotel accommodations for students until The William was ready to be occupied. However, after extensive research it was determined that because of future commitments by local hotels it would not be possible to provide blocks of rooms or other accommodations for our residents. We informed students only after we had exhausted all possibilities.

It was determined that the best way to assist students was to provide them with gift cards in the amount of $2,500 and prorated September rent so that they could make the arrangements that best suited their situation. Gift cards were the fastest and most secure way to provide those funds since we do not have banking information for our residents.

Communications with residents was established through multiple channels as well as The William website. The goal was to make sure we provide accurate information and could process questions via email. We did not have the staff to manage hundreds of phone calls and did not want people to be put on hold or forced to wait for return calls when they could receive accurate detailed information via other channels. We are responding to emails and other communications as quickly as possible.

We are providing information to our residents as it becomes available. Because so many factors are outside of our control, we are providing information as it becomes available and when we are sure it is accurate.