A ‘Grymey’ Situation: University terminates housing for Staten Island residents

Resident students “Not given any warning” about canceled lease


Torch Photo/ Dayra Santana

St. John’s University’s Staten Island campus notified students earlier this month that that it has decided to end its lease with the Grymes Hill apartments, which are located directly adjacent to the campus. Citing a decline in housing enrollment year-over-year, the University notified resident students at the Staten Island campus that they must find other housing accommodations for Fall 2021 and beyond. 

Student Affairs told the Torch that students currently residing in the Grymes Hill apartments were notified via email on Feb. 17 of the cancelation, and that two virtual sessions were held on Feb. 23 “to answer student questions.” 

In the email sent to resident students, acquired by the Torch, the University stated that the change is effective at the end of the Spring 2021 semester and provided rates and contact information for anyone “interested in remaining in Grymes Hill apartments.”

“For several years students on the Staten Island Campus have not taken advantage of the opportunity to live in University-managed properties that we lease from Grymes Hill, resulting in a steady decline in demand for housing in Staten Island,” a spokesperson for the Office of Student Affairs told the Torch via email. 

Within the last year there has been a 47% decrease in students residing in the apartments.  “Staten Island had 54 students including our student housing staff of GAs/RAs [living in the Grymes Hill apartments] during the Fall of ’19 compared to 29 for Fall of 2020,” the spokesperson said. 

Students who are now without housing can choose to lease directly from Grymes Hill apartments if they wish. These students have also been given the option of relocating to the Queens campus to reside and continue their education. 

Regardless of trends and numbers, students that reside in the Grymes Hill apartments are voicing concern over the future of not only their housing situations, but the ability to continue their college careers. 

Two Staten Island students spoke to the Torch on the condition of anonymity, citing fears of potentially losing campus jobs or scholarships if they were to speak on the record. They shared that they felt caught off-guard and stated that they were not notified of the University’s decision before it was even brought to the table.  

“This decision was abrupt, residents were not warned, they were not given adequate time to prepare alternative arrangements …” an upperclassman at the Staten Island campus told the Torch in an email interview. “This change does not simply impact campus-housing, but also finances, campus engagement and work opportunities and scholarship programs requiring dorming.” 

According to the upperclassman, the only time students were notified was when they received the email on Feb. 17. 

One resident student, who asked to remain anonymous for the same reasons, was also taken aback by this decision. 

“The initial reaction was surprise and stress as well as anxiety,” they said via email. “I was surprised that decisions [were] made because we [were] not given any warning. I was also frustrated that no one consulted us.” 

Student Affairs told the Torch that the decision was made to announce the decision via email only to those who were living in housing this semester as “these are the students that are impacted by this decision.”  

Student Affairs also told the Torch that students who resided in the Grymes Hill apartments and choose to make the move to the Queens campus have been notified of a Financial Aid counselor “that will assist them with this process with financial consideration being considered.”

Despite potential financial assistance if students decide to relocate to the Queens campus, students may not be able to leverage the difference in both tuition and room and board. Undergraduate students at the Queens campus paid $43,160 for the 2020-21 academic year, while undergraduate students at the Staten Island campus paid $30,810. 

“That was the only University housing available here and I am not eligible for direct rental from Grymes Hill,” the resident student said. “So I will be looking for housing on my own, because Queens is too expensive when housing costs are combined with higher tuition.” 

For the 2020-21 academic year, the cost of a single room at the Grymes Hill apartments is $5,785 per semester. This is nearly $1,000 cheaper than the price of a single room in any of the off-campus or on-campus housing options at the Queens campus. 

“Right now we keep hearing [that] we have so much time to figure it out [but continuing students] have to know which campus they will study on before their class registration, which will start early April,” the same resident student told us earlier this month, when news of the canceled master lease first broke. “This means we have just two weeks and that is not fair.” 

During the meeting with Residence Life we were informed that the decision was in the air for some time now, as numbers were dropping … If they were thinking about it for a while they should have told us the beginning of Fall 2020,” they continued. “It would give students more time to think about their plan.”

One group of resident students especially at-risk in this situation is international students. According to the 2020 Enrollment Report, 15 international students attended the Staten Island campus in Spring 2019. Enrollment data for the 2020-21 academic year is not yet available. 

Given the option to either transfer to the Queens campus or find independent housing on Staten Island, the upperclassman told the Torch that the University has offered assistance to this select group of students, directing them to the International Student and Scholar Services Office on the Staten Island campus. 

Student Affairs told the Torch that students were also provided with the contact information to the leasing company for the Grymes Hill apartments so students can choose to directly lease from them if they wish, but it does not make the situation any easier, according to the upperclassman student. 

“International students do not meet the criteria for the leasing agency that SJU had a contract with for their apartments (Grymes Hill) if they wanted to independently live there, and are ineligible for many other alternative leasing/renting options as well,” the upperclassman said. “Many of our residents are full-time students, and adding costs of independent housing was not something they and their families are financially capable of arranging, especially in such a short deadline, and especially during a pandemic.” 

A petition was created on March 1 in response to the housing situation by a “collective body of student organizers at the Staten Island Campus” advocating for housing security for all resident students at the Staten Island campus, including international students. It highlights demands for a tuition freeze, a renewed lease agreement and, in the event that the University does not renew the lease, aid for resident students who pursue individual leases. The petition has amassed nearly 500 signatures as of March 24. 

“SJU SI is a campus and community of its own, and the decision-makers in the [Queens] administration must remember that,” the upperclassman said. “Moreover, we also hope that the University rethinks this decision, as the lack of housing affects many aspects of SJU SI campus-life, which have been detailed in the petition, [such as] diversity, student leaders, job opportunities, et cetera.”