Sometime during 2015-2016 school year, UC Merced realized that there was not enough room on campus to house all of the students they planned on accepting the upcoming school year. The solution? Ship students off campus and provide them with transportation back to campus. Benefits such as fast internet service, in-house laundry services, and a lower cost of living compared to living in dorms on campus were all touted to encourage students to move towards these new off campus-on campus dorms known as the Heritage Apartments. However, while promises were made, some were not fulfilled for the first few weeks of the school year, leaving residents frustrated and upset. The Prodigy got the chance to talk to a few residents about the Heritage apartments to see how they fare now that all amenities and benefits have been sent. The responses varied depending on the places where they were living. The Village Terraces had glowing reviews, Village Landing agreed that things were acceptable, but those living in Northwood Villages were the most upset with the situation.
The Village Terraces is said to be the biggest and most luxurious of the three off campus complexes UC Merced rents for its students. It also happens to be the closest of the three complexes to its designated bus stop. According to Brandon Chao, a resident at the Terraces, this was one of the major selling points. He enjoys the proximity to the stop but thinks “it sucks for others that don’t live as close because they have to leave way earlier [to make it to the stop in time].” After hearing about the apartments from a friend towards the end of the 2015-2016 school year, he decided to research the new apartments as best he could, given that his class schedule at the time clashed with every meeting the school had about the Heritage Apartments. It was cheaper than living in the dorms, even when including a $600 a month charge to be used as stipend for food on campus. He applied for admittance into the Heritage Apartments as soon as the applications opened up, getting his first choice.
Moving in was fairly simple, with Brandon saying “this is way better than I expected, thinking and comparing it to a typical apartment… I felt very lucky.” Upon coming in, the room was fully furnished, one of very few that were. In addition to a standard table and four chairs, his apartment also had both a one and three seat sofa. The first few days were a bit difficult as both the internet and washing machines that had been promised were absent. In a general town hall meeting with Heritage Apartment residents, Martin Reed, director of Housing and Residential Life, admitted that at one point just having beds in every room in time for move in seemed a difficult task and apologized for the long time it took to get all the pieces working together. In the same meeting students were told that washing machines and internet were going to be in place by the beginning of October. To ease the problem with internet, UC Merced contacted Verizon and managed to get Jetpack MiFi units to provide Wi-Fi for the month it would take to get Xfinity working for all students. For Brandon, the MiFi “was interesting because it wasn’t that great, but it was doable.” For many other students, the MiFi units were unusable because they were not activated or simply didn’t work. Once Internet was installed by early October, the Jetpack units became redundant. They will be recalled at some point in the future. Washing machines were also installed by October third, finally completing the promises made half a year ago. Overall, even with a few problems, for the most part the residents of Village Terraces felt good about their living situation.
Another group was sent to Village Landing, located a stone’s throw from the Village Terraces. Yessenia Molina, a resident there, attended one meeting after hearing about the apartments from a friend. Her application was sent in a few days after the application process was opened, with four who applied, her included, getting their last choice, Village Landing. The same internet problems were had, although since she lives with three roommates, washing machines were prioritized for them and were available upon moving in. The Jetpack worked decently, stemming any major complaints until Xfinity was installed. “The internet is pretty fast, Netflix was the first thing I tried, and it worked quick[ly]. There was no lag or freezing at all.” Living in a two bed, two bath with three roommates has its own difficulties, like the desk being moved to the living room, but overall thinks, “what’s to not like [about living in the Heritage Apartments]? You’re basically living on your own and if you mess up that’s on you.”
The situation in Northwood Villages isn’t as rosy, with a few students feeling they got the short end of the stick. Given that the Northwood is the oldest of the three complexes, a few amenities are not a given. Foremost among them is that some units do not have the hook up for in house laundry and have older internet cables. One student discussed her experiences but has asked to remain anonymous. She attended the meetings once her interest was piqued. “The meetings were very convincing. They mentioned a lot of really awesome things like the fact that we could have the freedom to be off campus but at the same time still have financial aid come through, [and] having cat dollars on campus was a really really appealing idea.” She applied for admittance as soon as possible, but got her second choice of Northwood.
The conditions in Northwood were not up to par. Upon moving in she noticed “it was dirty, the place had a musty smell, and it was definitely not what we were expecting at all.” Everything was old, even furniture whose equivalents in other complexes were new or lightly used. Once staff realized not all houses had laundry hookups, the idea to give students $50 laundry cards for the local laundry rooms was made, however, the cards were not issued until The first week of October, with students left on their own until then.
Things didn’t go much better with the MiFi Jetpacks, this student in particular possessing one of the ones that were not activated. And things did not improve much once Internet was installed. While there was significant improvement, the bandwidth was lacking. “After five devices, [the internet] will tell me I can’t load certain things, videos will pause constantly. It’s not very fast but I know there is not much [heritage staff] can do in general.” She also feels security is lacking. “In the Villages I heard about cars being broken into, and the fact that these people are not being caught is a sign that the security patrol is not going around enough. And in my experience here in Northwood I have heard of a guy shining a flashlight into some girls’ patio door and someone has tried breaking into my apartment.” She was at home when a pounding began at her door. Upon checking, she realized the man was trying to get in. After hiding in her room she called authorities, who arrived fifteen minutes later. Luckily, nothing happened to the resident before the police were able to respond but she, and other residents, fear it may not be enough next time.
Overall, for her, “It’s not worth it. I was afraid to sleep in my apartment for weeks, I had friends over, I avoided going home.” To that effect, she did try moving to a different place, being promised a place in Village Landing. Once she got to her new apartment, she was surprised to find that there were students already living there and was told that UC Merced housing had no idea she was supposed to be moving in. She was told to stay put in her Northwood apartment and wait for a new place to open up in the future, but never received a follow up. She is still waiting.
At first, students were told attending meetings were mandatory to be able to apply to the Heritage Apartments, but later this changed so that attendees would only get priority applications. However, a student that did not attend the meetings, although through no fault of his own, got first choice while another who attended multiple meetings was forced into her last choice. There were rumblings of random placement among students and this seems to stoke the fire of that argument. Among the interviewees the general consensus was that the Heritage Apartments had a rocky start but show promise for the future. There are still issues with transportation; a few students make a fifteen minute walk to the bus stop, and security with a few students complaining about not feeling safe in the Apartments. However, the Housing department says that it is working its hardest to address these issues and provide a safer, cheaper alternative to living on campus for UC Merced students.
Photo Credit: Marcus Fox