This story was updated Dec. 16 to include additional information from an interview with University president Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Students who had concerns about living arrangements for the winter break were spoken to after these interviews took place and were moved into Esperanza Hall.
Like many other students, Violet Valtierra, Texas A&M University-San Antonio biology freshman, took an offer to live in a hotel instead of a dorm for her first semester.
“There was no choice,” said Valtierra, a student resident in a hotel a few miles from campus.
Because of a large overflow in housing applicants for the 2021-2022 school year, A&M-San Antonio offered students rooms in three Southside hotels for the fall semester with $1,500 toward their fall bill, shuttle service between campus and the hotels, an optional meal plan and a free on-campus parking pass as incentives.
“I don’t have a place to go. So I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have to figure out something.” Violet Valtierra, A&M-San Antonio biology freshman
“We’re trying to not let that happen again, but we were just overwhelmed at the last minute,” Don Albrecht, special assistant and chief of staff in the Division of Student Success and Engagement, said of the amount of accepted housing applications. Albrecht is also helping oversee the hotel situation.
Esperanza Hall, the university’s sole residence hall, is currently housing 375 students, which is seven above capacity. Seven rooms in the residence hall are holding five bed spaces instead of the usual four — another offer the school made in an attempt to maximize housing space, Albrecht said.
Ninety-seven students are living in the hotels occupying 49 rooms, with one Resident Assistant in each hotel.
Amelia Guzman, business manager and executive assistant of the Division of Student Success and Engagement, said the university is spending $75 per room per night at one hotel and $85 per room per night at the other, and the all-inclusive cost of the shuttle service for the fall term is $95,128. A&M-San Antonio has contracted rates with the hotels as well as the shuttles, which are run by Daisy Charters & Shuttles.
Valtierra and biology freshman Maria Nansubuga said that for roughly two weeks students were also being housed in La Quinta, but due to roach and bed bug problems, as well as construction workers cat-calling the female residents, students were moved out of the hotel into one of the others.
Svan Young, manager of the La Quinta that students were staying in, said they are a pet-friendly hotel and he believes someone’s pet was the source of the roach and bed bug issues. Young said they treated the problem right away.
Young also said that they “tried to prevent” students and workers from encountering each other, but it ultimately did not work out.
Students were told via an email from the division of Student Success and Engagement on Aug. 3 that hotel living was expected to end along with the fall semester and they would be relocated into Esperanza Hall. Hotel living will now continue into the spring semester, but residents, along with their belongings, must move out by Dec. 11, or 24 hours after their last final.
The hotel move-in date is Jan. 7 and spring classes begin Jan. 10.
“I don’t have a place to go,” Valtierra said. “So I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have to figure out something.”
Unlike leases in Esperanza Hall, hotel residents’ belongings may not remain in their rooms over winter break, and they do not have an option to request to stay in their rooms between semesters if they don’t have somewhere to go, Albrecht said.
University president Cynthia Teniente-Matson said in a Dec. 13 Zoom interview with The Mesquite that every student met one-on-one with housing staff to accommodate student needs. Matson said students who needed a place to stay were moved into Esperanza Hall.
“There are no students that were left without a place to go and didn’t have a place to go,” Matson said.
On Tuesday, Nov. 16, Albrecht, Guzman and Karen Tucker-Engel, university police officer and Clery Act compliance coordinator, held a meeting with 14 students in the conference room of one of the hotels.
At the meeting, student residents received pamphlets on campus safety resources and forms asking them whether they will be living in the hotels in the spring or have made their own arrangements. The form also asked them when their last final was and when they would be moving out.
Tucker-Engel, along with campus victim assistance dog Oakley, gave a safety presentation on how to use the SafeZone app, which allows students on campus or in the hotels to press a button that will call University Police to their exact location. Albrecht and Guzman walked students through the questionnaires, provided information and answered student questions about housing for next semester.
Students may note that they want the same room and/or roommate, but it will not be guaranteed as the hotel will choose which rooms to block out for student residents. Currently, the rooms are on multiple floors of the hotel, but the university is hoping “to keep them more condensed and not as spread out all over all the floors,” Albrecht said.
Students staying in the hotel receive free daily breakfast from their hotel, their laundry paid for and free maid service. Esperanza Hall residents have free laundry, but not free breakfast or cleaning service.
Some hotel residents are enjoying the experience, while others are not.
Nansubuga and Valtierra said there are certain events on campus they cannot attend because of the distance from campus and planning around the shuttle, which departs from the university at the top of the hour, and from the hotel at the half hour. Monday through Friday, the shuttle runs from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, the shuttle runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Nansubuga and Valtierra also expressed that they were unsatisfied with communication from the school, and said they did not know which hotel they were assigned until the day of move-in.
On the other hand, computer science freshman Erick Garduza and pre-business freshman Josh Esquibel both prefer living in the hotel to living in the dorms.
“Because we have all the incentives, and it’s better for me to stay here right now,” Garduza said, “…I’m just going to stay here for the next semester if they offer it.”
The university is working on building another residence hall on campus, but administrators are still waiting on approval from the A&M system to begin construction. It will be a full 16 months from the start to finish of construction.
“We know that fall of ‘22 is not an option…” Albrecht said. “We really hope that we can have something in place for fall of ‘23.”
Albrecht said construction must begin in May 2022 to meet that goal.