There's room at the (Hampton) inn


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University of Illinois student Difei Chen's new home on campus has free breakfast and dinner, a swimming pool, maid service, a fitness room and a gift shop.

It sounds luxurious, but the junior English major isn't exactly thrilled to live in the Hampton Inn on University Avenue in Urbana.

The room is less than one-third the size of his would-be apartment, doesn't have a place for him to prepare food, do homework or hang out with friends and is farther from his classes.

Chen is one of several students — including seven who talked to The News-Gazette — living in the hotel while their apartment building at 303 S. Fifth Street in Champaign is finished. Their apartments were supposed to include in-unit laundry, granite countertops, private bathrooms and covered parking, and Chen is still paying $893 a month for all of that.

"We pay for a luxury apartment, but we get the Hampton Inn," said Xinwen Pi, a junior in psychology, who is paying $1,300 a month for her apartment.

When it became clear the apartments wouldn't be done in time for students to move in, MHM properties, owned by emeritus UI faculty member Manssour H. Moeinzadeh, offered the students two options: Pay rent and live in the hotel or don't pay rent and find your own place to live. When the building is completed, those tenants who opted not to live in the hotel will move in.

"Illinois is finicky when it comes to winter weather. With the amount of snow we received and the rain in the spring, we were delayed," said Jessica Hannah, a spokeswoman for the company, making sure to point out other buildings have been delayed.

Of the 76 residents of the building, 98 percent took MHM up on the offer of hotel living, Hannah said. MHM gives the residents money for laundry, pays for storage facilities in West Champaign, as well as transportation to the facilities. She also said the company will assist with move-in when the apartments are finished.

In order to get the benefit, residents must pay their full rent, including parking and garbage fees, despite parking and garbage being free at the hotel, Hannah said.

Whether or not they accept the housing at the hotel, all of the students expect to live in the building when it opens.

"No resident has asked to be let out of their lease, which says to us as a management company that they are overall happy with the handling of the unexpected delay," Hannah said.

Chen said he was frustrated because he feels like the company has not been up front with residents about the time line for the building's completion. He has heard Sept. 18, Oct. 15, other times, and doesn't know what to expect. He also said he's worried about the condition the building will be in when they move in.

Hannah told The News-Gazette the company is "cautiously optimistic" about the building being finished in two to three weeks. On Thursday, the building had air conditioners sitting on balconies and workers driving bobcats and other machinery. The siding was not finished, and the concrete sidewalks and steps were not poured.

Hannah said this is the first time in the company's 20 years it has been delayed on a project.

Chen said the students are required to pay rent a month ahead of time — a full month's rent for the 10 days in August is due July 1, rent for September is due August 1 — so the students have already paid two months of rent. A third month was due Tuesday, and some students chose not to pay until MHM answers their questions.

Chen, a native of China, said he feels he was targeted as an international student.

He said he lived in an apartment last year, but that building had already been built when he signed a lease for it. He said MHM was confident the building would be completed by July when he signed the lease last fall.

"When we signed the lease, we didn't know what to expect," Chen said. "We don't have any experience here or have parents here to tell us signing a lease like that may not be the best idea.

Hannah said she regretted he felt that way.

"We don't target any specific groups at all. Again, the building not being completed was completely unforeseen, but it's always a risk with new construction," she said. "We have done our very best to make sure we provide the best accommodations in the meantime."

Pi, also a Chinese native though who did not know Chen before, said it's been a bonding experience.

"We were supposed to be neighbors. Now, we're fighters together," she said.

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