Amanda Gosline/MJ

By MICHAEL FOSSBAKK, Staff Writer

Rebecca Gallagher/MJ
Rebecca Gallagher/MJ

Last week, after The Michigan Journal published a story about a pipe that had burst in The Union at Dearborn on Monday night, many residents and non-residents began to cry afoul, directing a lot of criticism and outright, but rightful, anger towards the apartment complex’s management. Most of this criticism can be seen on The Union’s Facebook page, which include comments about The Union’s gesture of good will: free pizza for some, but not all, of the residents. Many saw this gesture as not doing anything to solve the real problem at hand: Lack of heat or running water for its residents while temperatures outside remained well below zero.

Another comment revealed that all of the students that moved from China to go to the University of Michigan – Dearborn live in The Union, but not by choice.

”Do you know what’s the most ridiculous thing happened in there? All the Chinese students live here because of the mandatory requirements,” Xochitl Shieh posted.

One woman took to the Facebook thread to advocate on behalf of her daughter, whom she had moved out of The Union, effectively breaking her contractual lease.

“I’ve moved my daughter out. Enough is enough,” Kathy Fuller said. “I’ve contacted the manager again with just a handful of these complaints and her response was send the key and pay the rent until my daughters apartment gets released.

“This situation goes way beyond the loss of heat and water. How about all the kids who were ‘approved’ to live there based on estimated financial aid?” Fuller continued. “I know that my daughter was not the only one who this happened to. She was approved to live there based on estimates. Estimates that were $10,000 short…now parents are stuck having to pay $650+ for there kids to live in a bedroom…”

While these problems can be called circumstantial, they are nonetheless problems that happened to real people that were promised a great value at a competitive price (or, in the case of the Chinese students, the only price).

As a resident of The Union, I wanted to offer the experience I have been privy to for the past four months and some change, in hopes that a little more light might be shed on a situation that seems to be going unnoticed by too many people and maybe serve as a cautionary tale for those looking at The Union as their future place of residence in the 2014-2015 school year.

***

To truly begin at the beginning, I have to go back to the week before move-in day. At one week before move-in day, I called The Union at Dearborn, in hopes that I might be able to see the actual apartment I would be spending the next 12 months living in. There’s a week left, I thought. Construction has to be done.

Whether or not construction was “done” was something that couldn’t be clarified to me by any of the “Community Assistants” (think of your contemporary “RAs,” but with a more hands-off approach). What they did know is that The Union at Dearborn didn’t have clearance from the construction company to access any of the residential apartments just yet, a week before move-in day. Work was presumably still being done (I later found out, along with the 400+ other residents that work was, in fact, still being done, well into move-in day week), but that there was a two bedroom/two bathroom apartment available for my future roommates and I to take a look at, that ultimately only informed us of what our kitchen would look like, what kind of furniture they had purchased and how big the T.V. was – the really important stuff.

(To top our visit off that day, prior to arriving at The Union, I had asked my parents to come and take a look with me. It wasn’t until after everyone had arrived that we found out that we would not be able to see our actual apartment, but instead a model of a completely different apartment as a “this is the best we can do right now” solution. Imagine my embarrassment when I looked at my parents, silently communicating my shame that I had chosen to live here. Things were off to a great start.)

Fast forward to move-in day, also known as one of the most infuriating experiences of my life so far. I had received the following email, regarding an assigned “Move In time” from the then-general manager Steve Ostipow on August 25, 2013.

My move in time was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. on September 1. I checked with my roommates-to-be to ask if they had received the same move-in time. Those that had received a move-in time at all had received the same assigned time frame, but apparently not all of us received this notice.

I arrived slightly before 11:30 a.m. on September 1 with two cars full of things that were to be moved into my apartment. The largest items were my own T.V. and a T.V. stand that I wasn’t sure was going to fit due to not being able to see my actual apartment the week prior, but brought with me anyway to find out. To begin, parking had been unofficially relegated to the south lot (the big one) and residents were expected to carry all of their items from that parking lot, to the apartment complex and, in my case, up one flight of stairs (the elevators were apparently out of commission on move-in day).

After parking, I went to wait in line, while I let my family of volunteers wait in the car, thinking it would be a quick process of proving who I was and picking up my key. As it turned out, those in charge weren’t entirely sure where any of the keys to building three, my building, were. I signed the papers I needed to sign and picked up my day-one checklist while I waited, even after being told it could be several hours before I got my key. Several. Hours. Those “move in waves” really seemed to be serving their purpose.

To make an excruciatingly long and painful story short, one that involved hours of constant uncertainty as to whether or not I would actually be moving in that day and my mom being sprayed by their presumably automatic sprinkler system while she stood guard over my things that I had unloaded near the actual apartment complex to avoid a long and unnecessarily difficult walk while employees of the construction company stood by, watching my mom, doing nothing to, I don’t know, help her, let’s just say I was able to move-in around 3:00 p.m. and spent nearly all day furious that this was most likely just a taste of the atrocity that I had signed up for.

Over the course of the next four months, the residents of The Union and I were treated to an incomprehensible number of fire alarms at all hours of the day and night, most of which seemed to be false alarms or the effect of tampering or vandalism, an experience that quickly was likened to “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” as residents literally sat in their apartments, ignoring the alarm, knowing that there was no actual cause for alarm. It shouldn’t need to be said, but given the lack of professionalism, maybe it does: that is a safety hazard and it isn’t the only one.

Since the day we all moved in, it has been a constant guessing game as to whether or not the door to building three would actually work as intended. All of the doors are equipped with radio frequency identification receivers that unlock the door when an RFID key from The Union is held up to the receiver. All of the doors work this way and all of them function properly, except for the door to building three. At one point, the management’s solution to the problem was leaving the door unlocked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, threatening the safety of its residents. Presumably taking this safety concern into account, the door now remains permanently locked (it can still be opened from the inside, however), forcing residents that live near that door to walk through one of the other entrances. This amounts to little more than an inconvenience, but an inconvenience shouldn’t last four months.

I mentioned vandalism earlier and while I have not seen any acts of vandalism myself, management assures me it has been happening, sending me emails to keep me updated (scared?). A flier was posted on all of the residents’ doors with security camera pictures of their suspects, offering a free month of rent to anyone that can provide them with information leading to the arrest of those seen in the pictures. I won’t go into how strange it is that my apartment complex is looking to me and my fellow residents to keep us safe when that is one of the things we depend on (and pay) them for.

All of this that I have laid out here for you is not a comprehensive list of all that has gone awry since The Union opened its doors on September 1, 2013, or even since they announced the project in 2012. Nor has my experience living at The Union been met with complete regret. I enjoy living with my roommates. I enjoy that all of my utilities, cable, internet, etc. are included in one monthly price that never changes. I enjoy that all of my classes are a five minute walk from my apartment. I enjoy that, as promised, the environment created by the Community Assistants is not one as oppressive as you might find with a traditional RA found at most college dormitories. There are still issues that plague The Union, many of which are fundamental and therefore probably won’t be fixed any time soon, such as the stairs that also serve as the fire escape being made of wood. Given all of this, would I recommend that anyone sign a 12-month lease with The Union at Dearborn and choose to live there? As it stands right now – no.

***

In response to the pipe incident on Monday, January 6, 2014, Vice Chancellor Henderson said this:

“I think the idea of a pipe breaking, even though you have 10 degrees below with the wind chill and all the kinds of things we’re dealing with, that’s still a negative, there’s no way around it,” he said. “Does it have impact on reputation of the university? I think the overall experience that students have is what would reflect on the university. To this point, I think The Union has reflected extremely positively on the university.”

Unfortunately, Vice Chancellor, I don’t think it has.