So, it’s been two months since I moved in and it’s still not going so well. We, residents of Village Patrimmonia, have now organized ourselves into a cohesive group, and elected two representatives in a dark and smoky room in a pub— myself and Fabrizio, along with two standby representatives in case one of us is unavailable— and as elections go it was more democratic than most. We have sent a letter of demands to the VP management, accessible here, and a meeting to discuss all the problems was finally scheduled.
I can see that they are trying, the management, evidenced by the fact that there is now a conversation going, but conversations with them reveal an inherent ‘we are adults, we know better than you’ and ‘you are all drunken students, smoking in your rooms, and causing problems’ mentality despite the fact that the vast majority of the residents who I personally know are not like this at all.
Indeed accusations have been made by the concierge against students throwing used tampons at him— shocking, I know— an accusation denied by the students when shared with them. Who knows who is telling the truth?
The situation is difficult as there are problems from both sides. Honestly there are some irresponsible drunk students living here as well, like the person who vomited on the stairway and left their mess there. Besides the grating construction noise, accompanying endless dust (see photo below), the intermittent power and water, the slow and censored internet, we also suffer from certain residents’ acts of selfishness: for instance, smoking in rooms or under windows (then the smoke enters other rooms to the great detriment of people with asthma or smoke sensitivities), the general lack of propriety when drunk (which includes screaming in the courtyard or banging the walls of the hallway), parties in rooms that go on all night (I’ve had to knock on a door on my floor once, it was 2am and the noise was unbearable), people leaving their laundry in the laundry machines (of which we only have five, and five dryers, to handle a residence of 300), the list goes on. Life is generally not idyllic.
In any case, we scheduled a meeting with VP management, which consisted of Fabrizio and I, Laurence and Mr. Van den Broeck, and supposedly a representative from ULB. The ULB Accommodation Office representative however, a certain Bénédicte Lampin has declined to appear and indeed has never responded to my personal emails except for one— for shame! This is your job and you’re not doing it. Thank goodness for Sue Black at the ULB International Welcome Desk, who seems to have taken on the weight of the world.
At the meeting with VP management, during my pressing about the particulars indicated on their website that were not being provided, I was faced with the most racist encounter I have had here in Brussels: as I was enumerating the numerous problems other residents had asked Fabrizio and I to communicate to them, at the point the unavailability and unhelpfulness of the concierge, it was apparent that Mr. Van den Broeck was getting agitated and interrupted with a terse “Where are you from?!” and I had to pause and reflect, as all diaspora babies do, ‘where am I from?’
My gut response, which even surprised me, was ‘Australia’, though to be fair it was the country to which I was comparing my experience at Village Patrimmonia to. He then asked if I would expect 24-hour service in Australia. I answered that I had lived at a similar accommodation in Canberra and that even though they had not promised 24-hour concierge service, we had a system of student-residents who took responsibility at night for students who were locked out or otherwise in trouble. This to me was perfectly normal, students taking care of students, but it seemed shocking to them, asking if then I would take responsibility for burglary and rape. That surely escalated quickly! The bottom line though is that if you advertise 24-hour concierge service, then offer the 24-hour concierge service. If not, don’t advertise it.
Indeed speaking of Australia, while I was renting there, the elevator in our apartment complex stopped functioning due to old age. The management of Academie House immediately sent out an email to all the residents apologizing and giving us each a 10% rent reduction for the duration of our difficulties. Ten percent, just for an elevator, and pre-emptive, not requiring us to get up in arms. That is how it should be done.
To clarify, which we also did at that moment in the meeting, we do not expect the concierge to be at our beck and call 24/7. That is completely unreasonable and no one is asking for that. What we are asking for is that he actually be available and reachable somehow when needed. I have had three personal experiences of trying to reach the concierge (both by calling his listed mobile and by going down to his ‘house’) and I could not find him. I had to escort someone’s disabled mother down four flights of stairs to see the concierge because she couldn’t reach him by phone either— and helping someone who cannot walk down four flight of ‘fire escape’ stairs is not an easy task! I felt so angry when we finally got to the concierge’s office (his wife answered the door, not him), but I couldn’t stay to tell them exactly what I thought as I was already late for a meeting elsewhere.
Other residents have required assistance only to receive none, some mild such as they got locked out and could not enter some urgent such as they were very sick and needed help and did not know where to go. In the defense of the concierge, I do run into his wife a lot and she is extremely friendly when I run into her in the village and responds with ‘Bonjour!’ to my ‘Bonjour!’. Perhaps there is a mismatch of expectations, perhaps he is overworked, perhaps his mobile phone was stolen. I don’t know what is happening, but there is certainly something wrong. Indeed he is not a medical professional so he is not responsible for medical emergencies, but when parents see “24-hour concierge” at a student residence they expect someone to take care of their children, often foreigners, often foreigners who do not speak French, perhaps to help call an ambulance or to generally provide ‘adult’ ‘local’ assistance in the case of emergencies, and this is not the case. Unfortunately the crux of the problem was perceived as us wanting him for us 24/7, which again is perhaps linked to the administration’s belief that we are all ignorant children.
I do not know where this perception originated, but it is grating on me. I have been working a full time job for years before returning to graduate studies, I pay taxes, bills, and I have probably faced and won over more bureaucratic difficulties than they have had to do as much older EU citizens living in the EU. The same would be the case for instance with the other graduate students, and indeed other Erasmus Mundus people who already have mobility bureaucracies to deal with without housing difficulties. Treating us like children, all the while mismanaging our residence and causing us so many problems academic, social, and health-wise… there is something very wrong here.
We asked about construction, which was supposed to end in September 2014 and that up to this point was continuing (and was projected to continue until the end of February 2015). Rent reductions were agreed upon for October, November, and December, which is fantastic. No reductions were foreseen for January and February— something that we will obviously fight against when the time comes.
And lastly, we were told that we could move in to the studios— the original plan from the beginning, except that they were literally being constructed (see image directly below)— which is fantastic considering I’m leaving for Manila in a couple of days. So I have, quite plainly, 24 hours to haul all my life from one apartment to another without the help of any elevator or modern convenience. Let’s see how this next chapter in the Patrimmonia Saga goes.