As the spread of the novel coronavirus forces businesses across the state to shut down and residents to shelter in place, many people have been laid off, leaving them struggling to pay rent and other bills.
LSA senior Emily Roat lives in an Oxford Companies property. She lost her job and needed assistance paying her $420 per month rent. In an email to The Daily, Roat said after reaching out to Oxford Companies, she was told they were not planning on providing rent assistance.
“Essentially they said that they were a management company and the individual property owner of (my property) had chosen not to make any changes whatsoever,” Roat wrote. “The person who emailed me recommended I apply for unemployment, and said I should consider subletting — I still live there, so that is not an option, and moving in with my parents would be dangerous for them.”
On March 23, Roat posted screenshots of her emails and text messages with Oxford Companies in a Facebook group with University students. Roat said in addition to declining to offer rent relief, Oxford Companies had no plans to allow tenants to break leases early.
Oxford Companies owns several apartment complexes and houses in the Ann Arbor area. On behalf of Oxford Companies, Karin Meier, director of Shared Services, shared a statement with The Daily. Meier said the company is aware of the difficulties their tenants are facing and said they will be waiving all late fees for their residents.
“The COVID-19 outbreak and the actions necessary to slow its spread are creating hardships for everyone,” Meier wrote. “At Oxford, our first priority will always be the safety and wellbeing of our residents. To that end, our maintenance staff is taking strong precautions and adhering to the protocols of the CDC and Health Department as we service the properties to ensure resident safety.”
Meier wrote that the company is looking for ways to lessen the burden on their residents, but is unable to construct a universal policy for all its properties.
“While we don’t own any residential assets, Oxford provides property management services on behalf of multiple property owners, each with their own unique financial considerations such as property taxes and mortgage payments,” Meier wrote. “As such, we unfortunately aren’t able to offer a uniform policy regarding rent payments. What we can do, however, is continue the discussion around COVID-19 to understand how residents, property owners, lenders and the City of Ann Arbor are impacted and identify possible solutions.”
In response to those in search of rent relief, University alum Hoai An Pham created a Facebook page for Washtenaw County Mutual Aid + Resources to support tenants who need assistance paying rent during COVID-19. She said she created the page because she feels it is important to ensure people have access to as much information as possible.
“I saw lots of other Facebook groups being created around the country, and a lot of us have been learning from each other and communicating with each other. I think that’s really important to be collaborating and sharing resources when we can,” Pham said. “I was seeing a lot of people just trying to share as much as they could on their own Facebook pages in the hopes that people would see it, and there were, like, 20 different research documents being circulated.
Mutual aid in the Washtenaw County area has been in existence for years, but Pham said she thought it was important for everyone to have access to any and all resources they may need in this time of uncertainty.
“The Mutual Aid Network of Ypsilanti has existed for a year, in part connected to the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief organization, which has existed for a super long time,” Pham said. “Peace House, in Ypsi, is a house of hospitality and has been doing work for homeless folks for a super long time. Detroit has been doing all the groundwater delivery to folks who don’t have running water. So, all this stuff existed before. I think that in these times, there has been a higher need in terms of mutual aid because a lot of people are losing their jobs.”
LSA seniors Sharif Krabti and Katrina Stalcup and University alum Casey Jong are working on a campaign called No Rent Michigan. The campaign aims to help renters receive support and guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Krabti said their short-term goals are to empower tenants.
“We took the approach of getting resources out there as much as possible to allow people to organize for their own situations, and hopefully get some concessions or get some relief for this month’s rent or for April’s rent,” Krabti said. “And then our long-term goal is trying to build a network of tenants across the state of Michigan.
Stalcup said Ann Arbor renters should not strike by themselves. She advised renters struggling to pay rent to look at the organization’s resource guide for advice on how to approach asking for a rent waiver for April.
“(Striking by themselves) puts them at risk,” Stalcup said. “Really consider our Google Doc and our list of resources that shows you how you can create a network within your own building, and then also long-term, be connected to a statewide group of people that are supporting renters standing in solidarity with renters and will continue to show up.”
In the future, Jong said their future goals depend heavily on the responses of renters and homeowners.
“In the event of any sort of future actions, I think that’s a little tough just because it’s going to depend somewhat on the responses we get to these more immediate action items,” Jong said. “It’s really about solidifying this larger network in addition to offering resources to individuals so that when it becomes time to take another step or another action, we’ll be ready and we’ll have a network.”
Reporter Brayden Hirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.