Just crossing the Bridge Street bridge into the heart of the city or driving past French Street, one can see the speedy development of a new “purpose built, student housing” facility on the water: Edge Merrimack River.
Throughout the 2016-17 academic year at UMass Lowell numerous students have come in contact with Edge Merrimack River marketing team from tabling to appearances at events. Nearly 100 students have even signed leases for the unfinished facility for the coming academic year.
A recent informational email from UMass Lowell’s Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Larry Siegel, to the UMass Lowell parents and students came with tones of warning to be weary of Edge Merrimack River.
“The university does not endorse or have a relationship with Edge Merrimack River. On the contrary, we are significantly concerned by its aggressive and irresponsible marketing of an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere boasting the lack of rules, regulations and supervision,” said Siegel in his email.
The email came as a surprise to students and raised a series of questions about what was going on between UMass Lowell and Edge Merrimack River.
The development of Edge Merrimack River began midway through last calendar year, and despite a myriad of issues surrounding the facility’s development and marketing, most students were unaware of the steadily growing stresses on Edge Merrimack River’s relationship with UMass Lowell and the possible dangers of leasing in their property.
“I honestly had no idea about any of it… I think a lot of people were just incredibly confused when they started marketing on campus,” said Daniel Rabin, sophomore engineering student.
Following Siegel’s warning, Edge Merrimack River’s owner and developers, Rick and Mary Shaffer, and Vice President of Marketing and Leasing Joel Burton held a meeting with local media to defend themselves against Siegel’s claims.
Throughout the meeting and tour of the mock-up apartment facility, the Shaffers and Burton stressed that despite their tagline, “Find Your Freedom, Live on the Edge,” Edge Merrimack River was a safe and secure facility that would benefit the students and “young professionals” residing there.
“It was out of the blue… It actually caught us off guard… All we ask from the university is to be on a sanctioned list of approved off campus housing,” said Burton.
Edge Merrimack River initially appeared to have been the victim of false statements and attacks by the university; they citedthe reason for their dispute with UMass Lowell as being the university feeling threatened by competition in the way of housing.
Vice Chancellor Siegel, however, clarified that the claims were not an overreaction made out of spite, but truthful.
Siegel substantiated each and every claim with hard evidence. From Edge Merrimack River’s poor environmental history and lack of control over residents in other facilities to their shady, and at times illegal, marketing strategies, Siegel had documents for each instance.
It appears Edge Merrimack River has engaged in countless less-than-honest practices. From ignoring cease-and-desist orders from the university legal team to prevent solicitation on campus to what may be the most important issue of all: dishonesty on the topic of financial aid.
“With the financial aid, there’s a six thousand dollar difference… They were leading students to believe, at first, that financial aid would cover the housing,” said Siegel.
Siegel’s biggest concern was with the fact that as an off campus housing facility students living at Edge Merrimack River would receive off campus financial aid, which is significantly less than on-campus aid, but be living in a facility with costs comparable to on-campus living situations.
Meaning that despite Edge Merrimack River’s claims that it is less expensive, or at least equivalent to, on-campus living it will become a financial burden for students when financial aid is accounted for.
Burton and the Shaffers made no mention of this, nor has Edge Merrimack River made any attempt to be transparent about the matter, simply redirecting curious students to UMass Lowell’s Solution Center.
“Affordability and financial aid are important matters… We weren’t really concerned about competition. Our residence halls were full. They’re full again. We don’t punch back. The only thing that I have done is send that letter, and there is not a thing that is not true in it,” said Siegel.
University officials expressed major concern for the student body and the possibility that they may be taken advantage of in the situation.
With the housing deadline passed the due date, the Office of Student Affairs assured that staff would work tirelessly to ensure that as few students as possible would be affected negatively.
“Our job is to protect the students, not fight with [Edge Merrimack River]. I’m personally upset because I am concerned about our students. I care about their safety. What disturbs us is that it feels like the students are likely to be the losers in this,” said Siegel.