Student, local advocacy groups push for ‘rent holiday’ in Manhattan

A large number of students live off-campus in Manhattan. With the pandemic, a lot of K-State students have returned to their hometowns, but are still paying rent to their off-campus housing providers. (File Photo by Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Pranav Savanur, junior in biology, along with some local advocacy groups, is pushing for a “rent holiday” in Manhattan for people who find themselves in financial trouble during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A rent holiday, or a temporary rent freeze, would help unemployed or cost-burdened residents maintain their safe housing, even if they can’t pay their rent, Savanur said.

As a self-described advocate for people in need, Savanur said he wants officials and commissioners to see things from the perspective of Manhattan residents who are struggling financially.

With an unprecedented unemployment rate, he said, tenants are unable to pay for housing.

“As a pre-med student, I understand that most of the time pandemics are not just because of genetics and outbreak, but also about the political and structural will,” Savanur said. “Oppression and segregation are highlighted the most during a pandemic and we can clearly see that the ability to live in safe and affordable housing is a privilege and how this [lack of] privilege is unfairly affecting the poor.”

Without proper housing, he said, residents cannot safely quarantine or practice social distancing, which could cause the virus to spread more.

Gov. Laura Kelly signed an executive order restricting foreclosures and evictions throughout the state until May, but Savanur and local advocacy groups like Renters Together MHK and the Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice are pushing for a local extension.

“I believe that in order to rise from the current pandemic situation, we need to put people’s lives first and fight together against the outbreak with solidarity and compassion,” Savanur said. “The best way to do this is by supporting a rent holiday.”

While Savanur is pushing for a rent freeze for all Manhattan residents who are struggling, he is especially passionate about speaking up for his fellow Kansas State students.

“A lot of full-time undergraduate students are still paying rent in Manhattan, but do not even live here because they are following the guidelines given by the university to stay at home and take classes online, and many students are becoming more and more cost-burdened during this time,” Savanur said. “By supporting a rent holiday, K-State could help boost the student retention rate, and in order to help students stay in school and achieve the land grant mission of our university, it is timely and imperative to support this.”

Like residents, local property management companies have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Craig Lauppe, president of Advanced Property Management, said all company operations have shifted to online platforms.

The company is working to ensure the safety of residents, staff and customers, he said.

“Our operations have completely changed,” Lauppe said. “One stance that we’ve taken as a company is that we need to find a different way to do business in order to come out of this differently. Everything from a leasing perspective, a maintenance perspective and a management perspective have gone through a complete change and we’ve really challenged ourselves to actively work virtually.”

Lauppe said the proposal for a rent holiday is complicated. From the perspective of property management companies, it could cause a supply chain effect and long-lasting financial problems on the community and companies.

“A rent freeze would exponentially hurt the community as a whole,” Lauppe said. “A lot of service-based companies, such as property management or maintenance companies, rely on the funds from rent proceeds to help upkeep homes, service the homes, rent the homes and things along those lines.”

Lauppe said that he looks at the supply chain perspective in regards solely to numbers and logistics, but that Advanced Property Management is looking at things from a more personal standpoint.

He said they are open to working with property owners and residents to find solutions such as rent extensions, or an agreement to pay rent once they have steady income.

“From a personal perspective, our company understands that residents are being hit and enduring a hard time right now,” Lauppe said. “We understand that if they have a concern, we’re opening ourselves up and sending out emails ahead of time before rent is due and asking that if anyone is having a tough time that they come to us.”

Although Advanced Property Management and other companies in Manhattan are trying to work with their residents during this time, Lauppe said that they still have to abide by and operate on legal agreements.

“The key is that we’re trying to take the personal approach more so as a company because we want to be there to support everyone,” Lauppe said. “But at the end of the day there are still legal agreements that have to be fulfilled, even if it takes a longer time to do so.”