By: Caitlyn Freeman, Assistant Editor and Anna Hovet, Contributing Writer
Illustration by Meghan Hudson/ The Towerlight
Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO) is holding some University System of Maryland (USM) students to their fall 2020 housing licenses. While students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) have the option to cancel their licenses, students at Towson University (TU) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMDCP) are unable to cancel theirs.
According to the Executive Director of MEDCO, Robert Brennan, the corporation owns the buildings and housing licenses for several properties within the USM. MEDCO leases the land from universities and funds construction of their residences through bondholders and investors.
“We are required, as part of this budgeting process, to essentially operate as private facilities,” Brennan said. “We are not in a position to independently say because the University is restricting housing on the campus, to restrict our housing.”
According to WMAR, MEDCO currently has 6,692 beds across seven USM affiliated universities. This includes 1,088 at TU, 2,933 at UMDCP, and 337 at UMB.
Students living in UMB’s MEDCO owned residence, Fayette Square, were sent a letter from UMB Housing giving them the option to cancel their contracts after classes were moved online.
“We didn’t want to send a message of, ‘if you live in this housing, this is the rule that applies to you, and if you live in that housing, this will apply to you,’ when the face of housing is one,” said Bill Crockett, Executive Director of Campus Life Services and Campus Center at UMB.
Meanwhile, several students living in TU’s MEDCO owned residences, Paca and Tubman houses as well as Millennium Hall, have sought legal counsel after they were denied the option to cancel their contracts due to TU’s fall semester modality shift.
TU sophomore, Julia Depuy, is frustrated that TU hasn’t helped its students with their ongoing legal battle with MEDCO.
“I am not currently aware of anything Towson has done to try and resolve the problem,” Depuy said. “Even though UMB has a smaller overall population, the ratio of beds owned by MEDCO is proportional to the number of MEDCO owned beds at Towson.”
According to Crockett, UMB was able to allow students to cancel their MEDCO licenses as a result of the 2015 refinancing and a contingency agreement that made the University responsible for the income MEDCO would lose by cancelling licenses.
“(UMB) has the ability within their agreements that they have with us to densify, but they also have an agreement to make the payment so that our cash flows are there to comply with our lending agreements,” said Brennan.
In other words, UMB is paying out the licenses broken with MEDCO.
According to Brennan, several universities across USM have been in discussion with MEDCO to find ways to relieve students of their licenses. Brennan says TU has not made an effort to join the conversation. However, TU says they have.
“‘The ground lease with MEDCO does not provide means whereby the University can compel MEDCO to align with TU’s efforts to de-densify the residence halls by releasing students with full refunds from their housing contracts,’” Sean Welsh, Interim Vice President of University Marketing & Communications for Towson University, told WMAR. “‘We are in discussions with MEDCO and strongly advocating they do the right thing by our students.’”
Similarly to TU, UMDCP students are struggling to get out of their MEDCO licenses.
UMDCP senior, Emma Panek, made the decision to live at home while taking all online classes. She was originally planning to live in a MEDCO residence on the University’s campus called South Campus Commons.
“I mean, honestly, it’s hard not to feel a little envious.” Panek said regarding UMB students having the option to be released from their licenses. “[UMDCP President Darryll Pines] and [the University] really need to come to a resolution on this. It seems like UMDCP is really trying to wash their hands of this and not help us like UMB has done for their students, which is discouraging. Hopefully soon, the University will make the right decision as well.”