The Georgetown Student Tenant Association plans to enhance its operations to aid students experiencing housing uncertainty and grappling with untenable leases because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After Georgetown University decided to hold the fall semester online, upending many students’ fall plans, students living in the Georgetown neighborhood reported financial and housing difficulties. Some were unable to break leases or receive discounts on rent. In the past, students experiencing financially precarious housing situations off campus housing turned to GSTA. Founded in 2013, GSTA is a student-run group that provides advice and resources for leasing off-campus accommodations. The group last posted on social media in January 2018.
GSTA plans to become more active on Facebook to help students living in the Georgetown neighborhood as well as assist students facing housing uncertainty during the pandemic across Washington, D.C., according to GSTA Networking Manager Vanessa Ramirez (SFS ’24).
“We recognize that as we get bigger and as we become more active that there’s a lot of students, especially now in the pandemic, that are gonna need our services because a lot of students chose to be off campus this semester,” Ramirez said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Among other services, the GSTA offers fire safety equipment to off-campus tenants through a partnership with the Friends of Rigby Foundation, a nonprofit fire safety advocacy group created in 2006 after Georgetown student Daniel Rigby died in a townhouse fire.
GSTA also uses its Basic Business License Initiative to help student tenants ensure their landlords are complying with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs safety regulations. The regulations include checking that all landlords renting to Georgetown students have Basic Business Licenses and that their buildings undergo inspection, according to GSTA Director Gracie Patrick (COL ’22).
GSTA might have eased the process of finding off-campus housing and negotiating leases with landlords for students such as Justin Ma (COL ’21), who was unaware of the services provided by GSTA while negotiating his lease in Burleith.
“It was such a stressful process last year finding a house in the first place completely on our own, we didn’t know where to start or who to reach out to,” Ma wrote in a message to the Hoya. “We only talked to our landlord.”
Working with the Office of Neighborhood Life and the Office of the Tenant Advocate, GSTA members help conduct Basic Business License inspections to ensure tenants’ living situations are in accordance with D.C. housing regulations.
The Office of Neighborhood Life, designed to support all residents in the areas surrounding Georgetown, acknowledges the struggles the pandemic has caused in signing leases, according to ONL Director Cory Peterson. ONL has recommended students utilize GSTA in the past.
“We recognize the uncertainty and evolving factors around the COVID-19 pandemic make planning very difficult for future leases and subleases,” Peterson wrote in a statement to The Hoya.
Starting Oct. 6, the GSTA will also co-sponsor meetings with lawyers from the OTA through virtual office hours hosted by the Office of Neighborhood Life, according to Patrick. The OTA is a D.C. city agency that advocates for district tenants, helping them find emergency housing or obtain legal representation.
Although GSTA may not have had a strong social media presence since 2018, in part because many of its members graduated, their services have always been readily available for student tenants, according to Patrick.
“The club has been definitely active last year, just not as much on social media,” Patrick said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “A lot of people graduated who maybe knew about GSTA and used their services and then graduated, and having the whole of GSTA graduate as well — I think that had to do with a lot of people not knowing about us, and that’s partly why we’re trying to get the word out now.”