As the number of COVID-19 cases surged in New York in late March, CUNY evicted students from dorms with only a few days’ notice, in case the buildings were needed as makeshift medical facilities. Although CUNY said students with nowhere to go could move into a dorm at Queens College, most CUNY students who had been living in student housing had to return home to continue their classes online, whether still in New York or somewhere else.
But more than three months after the move-out date—and after CUNY approved refunds for graduating students—it appears that some CUNY families face obstacles trying to learn when students who graduated this spring will get their refunds.
Director of CUNY media relations Frank Sobrino told City Limits via email last week that “dormitory fees are being refunded on a prorated basis from the move-out date to students who graduated. Dormitory fees will be credited to continuing students on a prorated basis from the student’s move-out date.”
This semester, Daniel Yuengling’s daughter Nicole had been living in the dorm for City College, called The Towers. Yuengling provided a screenshot of his daughter’s portal for student housing payments, confirming a $3,562 credit in the account.
By the time he had to move Nicole out of her dorm on March 24, with 48 hours notice, Yuengling already paid for the spring semester of student housing. Yuengling had taken out $120,000 in loans for Nicole’s education so in the winter he had the cash on hand from the loan and he submitted all the payments required for Nicole’s housing expenses in her last semester.
Nicole Yuengling graduated from City College in May and is eligible to receive a refund, rather than just an account credit. After emailing The Towers and communicating with their director of housing and residence life, Seth J. Grossman, at least six times between April 14 and July 6, Yuengling has not been refunded yet.
“They put us in a hole,” says Yuengling, who is also retired.
Because of the CARES Act’s pause on student loan payments and interest, students who graduated in May will have until September 30 to pay back loans. Yuengling says he could start making those payments now, if the refund from The Towers would come. He also expressed worry about why the refund is taking so long, especially now that two months have passed since his daughter’s graduation.
“My personal opinion is they don’t have the money in the account,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s the reason but I’ve been waiting for months.”
When asked about how CUNY is communicating with students about accessing refunds, Sobrino wrote to City Limits via email, “Communications related to the dorms will come directly from the individual dorms or colleges.” But an email exchange between Grossman and Yuengling from July 6 reveals how little information at least one dorm has been giving students and their families about refunds for student housing.
“I wish I had new information to share with you. I’ve been in touch with the CCNY president, and the CUNY Chancellor’s office. I have used whatever power I have, which is very little, to attempt to push the conversations forward that will make refunds happen. And I understand your frustration. My team is feeling it too as we have truly been trying to get this rectified,” Grossman, The Towers’ director of housing and residence life, told Yuengling on July 6.
Grossman also noted in his July 6 email to Yuengling that since the CUNY Board of Trustees approved refunds for graduating students (through a resolution passed on March 30), City College, CUNY, and the building owner EHS have been “coordinating the processing of refunds.” He suggested that even though The Towers team has been aware of discussions, the management team “is not involved in this decision making.”
An attempt to track down answers about refunds from The Towers hit roadblocks that would confront other CUNY families besides the Yuenglings.
EHS, a reference to Educational Housing Services, does not have information for students who had been living in The Towers on their website. City Limits attempted to reach EHS by the phone number featured prominently on the EHS website, but that led to a message saying the number dialed was out of service.
After contacting a different phone number listed for EHS on a NYC.gov website for businesses during business hours, City Limits reached a representative who said she didn’t work for EHS but rather a company that answers phone calls when no one was available to answer the office number. She provided another number she said was for the EHS office but it led to another “number dialed out of service” message.
City Limits also reached out to The Towers. Grossman directed questions to the chief marketing officer at his company Capstone On-Campus Management (COCM), Alton Irwin, and Grossman said that Irwin “can provide more information than I currently could.”
Irwin replied to City Limits, “COCM has no additional comments to the response you have already received from CUNY Media Relations.”
Nicole Javorsky is a Report for America corps member.