After setbacks in the last year with construction and delayed move-in, some Aspen Heights residents still face problems with housing.
Eighty students are still living in temporary housing as of Aug. 21.
These delays were due to weather and switching construction contractors, Aspen Heights spokesman Stuart Watkins said.
Junior Justin Woodburn’s original move-in date was July 27, but this date was later pushed back to July 30 and then Aug. 1.
“I stayed at a friend’s house, even though I had a piece of paper Aspen Heights and I had signed stating my move-in day would be the 27th,” Woodburn said. Residents who were not able to move in immediately were given the option of either being placed in a hotel and receiving $400 or not to stay in a hotel and receive $600. Sophomore Hannah Lazo also had her move-in date pushed back, from July 31 to Aug. 17. “Luckily, the house me and my roommate were staying in hadn’t been rented out yet so we were able to stay there until we moved in,” Lazo said. The company divided the homes into four “phases.”
“The first week of July, Aspen Heights made the decision to relocate residents who chose homes in phase four,” Watkins said. “These residents were given the option of relocating to individual spaces in houses in phases one, two and three or chose to move to an offsite location until their unit becomes available in phase four.”
Phases one and three, however, were soon put on hold as well.
“While many of the houses were completed, Aspen Heights felt it was in the best interest of our residents to move them into area hotels until Aug. 17,” Watkins said.
The important thing was getting students in Columbia, Watkins said.
“Many of our residents are actively involved in student organization and activities that require them to be in the area several weeks prior to the start of classes,” he said.
After learning of the delays in early July, Watkins said the complex established a call center to contact students and inform them of the move-ins delays.
However, some tenants complained they received no forewarning at all.
Some students and parents took to the Aspen Heights Columbia Tenants’ Forum Facebook page to complain about receiving little to no notification of the move. “More than 98 percent of residents received some sort of direct notification from Aspen Heights,” Watkins said. “We are aware that several residents did not receive either the phone call, email or text message because either they were out of the country or had provided Aspen Heights with invalid contact information.”
Problems with move-in
The temporary housing situation has been far from perfect, said Patricia Wilson, a mother of a sophomore student living in temporary housing.
“Temporary housing has been disruptive — no wireless, limited transportation,” Wilson said. “It’s not an ideal way to start school. (My son) was hoping to have access to the bus.”
Even those who were able to move into their apartments said they had trouble.
“One of our windows was cracked,” junior Connor Eaton said. “We had no flooring. After we would shower, our showers would leak. We were promised TV. We still have no TV. We were promised Internet, still no Internet.”
The leaking was fixed, but the other problems remained, Eaton said.
Other students said they experienced the same type of incidents. Lazo’s unit was dirty and did not have all the furniture promised. It took roughly two or three days until she had the furniture, Lazo said.
“These are just little things, but we were promised parking spaces with our names on them so we’d have guaranteed parking,” Lazo said. “And our countertops and floors aren’t even sealed. Stains just sink into the countertop.”
Other promises by Aspen Heights are not being met, Woodburn said.
“I feel like they promised all these things to get people to move in, but they’re not following through,” Woodburn said. “They advertised for a 24-hour pool all summer, but apparently the corporation doesn’t allow a 24-hour pool. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s something they didn’t do. We’re paying for Internet and TV. The Internet is barely working. We don’t even have it really. They gave us Verizon (Wireless) Hotspots. We’re students. We need to have Internet.”
Woodburn also said on top of this, three of his friends’ and his own room did not have towel racks.
Aspen Heights recognizes the problems with some of the houses come from them being new homes with unforeseen maintenance issues that are “common in new construction,” Watkins said.
Aspen Heights encouraged residents to fill out maintenance request forms and these were processed by construction and maintenance teams, Watkins said.
“Once a request is submitted the maintenance team prioritizes each request based on need and the time of which it was submitted,” Watkins said.
An armed robbery occurred at Aspen Heights on Aug. 30 at 12:02 a.m. The resident, 20, opened the door after he heard someone knock, according to a Columbia Police Department news release. Two suspects entered the unit after flashing a gun. After entering, the suspects demanded money. A male roommate, 20, heard what was going on and confronted the pair. They left with an undisclosed amount of money and departed the scene in a gray, older-model passenger car driven by a third suspect. Also in the home at the time was a 19-year-old female and two other male roommates. According to the news release, no one was injured. Officers on their way to the scene of the crime began a chase after a gray four-door car coming out of the lumber yard area on Ponderosa Street. They began to pursue the vehicle, but the chase was stopped by the sergeant for safety reasons. It has not been confirmed as the vehicle the perpetrators escaped in, according to the news release.
Aspen Heights released safety information to its residents after the incident in an email.
The email said Aspen Heights representatives spoke with the MU Wellness Resource Center and students can use counseling services if needed. Aspen Heights representatives also spoke with the gate contractor and told residents completed gates are expected this week.
They also spoke with Signal 88, the security company for the housing complex. Signal 88 has increased patrols and now logs every visiting car that enters the property, according to the email.
Stress aside, Lazo said she’s enjoying herself now.
“Once we were settled in and all the kinks were worked out, we’re having fun,” Lazo said. “It was a headache of a move-in process, but now we’re having a good time.”
The company could have done more to ease the burdens on students, Wilson said.
“They should have had more personal touches,” Wilson said. “People are forgiving as long as you show them you actually care. I think Aspen Heights is a phenomenal development, (and my son is) still excited to live there.”
Due to all the problems with Aspen Heights recently, Woodburn said he remains wary for next year.
“The house is not even close to being done, (and) there’s random workers letting themselves in,” Woodburn said. “This was supposed to be able to let you focus on school, and it seems to be the opposite. It has yet to be determined (whether I’ll be signing next year). The shuttle is nice. As far as everything else has gone, I don’t see myself resigning the lease.”
Watkins said the company, which runs nine student complexes across the nation, is trying to fix what happened in Columbia. “Aside from communication, the construction timeline was a miss and it is something we are taking very seriously to ensure that it does not happen at future Aspen Heights locations,” Watkins said. “Internally, Aspen Heights created a team (Project Quickstart) that will assess what happened in Columbia, and moving forward we hope to eliminate the variables that contributed to the delay in construction and challenges with communication.” Watkins said the company is also hopeful for next year and will not ignore the challenges the organization and residents faced this year. “Aspen Heights is confident in the product and the customer service delivered by our on-site team,” Watkins said. “We are moving forward. Aspen Heights is committed to working closely with the university and community leaders. Most importantly, we are excited about our future in Columbia.”