In reversal, Fashion Institute of Technology offers temporary housing to laid-off dormitory staffers

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FIT’s Kaufman Hall on West 31st Street.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

By Gabriel Sandoval, THE CITY

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This article was originally published on by THE CITY

The public Fashion Institute of Technology is offering housing until the end of the academic year to 13 residential hall staffers facing layoffs — reversing course after THE CITY highlighted the workers’ plight. 

FIT President Joyce Brown announced in an email to the campus community Tuesday that the State University of New York design school will provide free accommodations and utilities to the workers through the end of May, even as their paid positions end next month.   

“I am hopeful that we are able to come to an agreement that will allow us to provide housing to those individuals who will no longer be employees but who need this support,” Brown wrote in the email, which was obtained by THE CITY. 

Brown said in the missive that a “catastrophic shortfall” in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic necessitated sharp cutbacks in the housing budget for the Manhattan campus. She described the layoffs as a “very difficult decision.”

THE CITY reported last week that FIT notified the 13 dorm staffers they were being laid off as of Nov. 30 and needed to move out of their Chelsea apartments by the end of the year.

Their housing had been provided to them free of charge by their employer, FIT Student Housing Corporation, a nonprofit affiliate that manages the school’s four residence halls. Brown noted that with the on-campus population shriveled due to remote learning, just 220 students currently live in dorms with 2,300 capacity. 

Under her contract, Brown lives in a full-floor penthouse atop one of the campus residence halls.

Petition Pressure

Brown’s decision to offer continued housing came after a petition began circulating on Sunday, asserting that 10 of 13 staff would face housing insecurity by the year’s end. The petition, addressed to Brown, demands FIT furlough rather than lay off staff while supplying them with housing and health insurance. 

It also calls for the resignation of two administrators, Sherry Brabham and Catherine O’Rourke, blaming them for the housing corporation’s financial troubles. 

FIT Fashion Institute of Technology President Joyce Brown.

“Several of the Residential Life full- and part-time employees who will be laid off will also lose crucial benefits including health insurance, during a time in which maintaining one’s health is vital as a global pandemic continues to exist,” the petition states.

On Tuesday, the affected employees received housing offers from O’Rourke, interim vice president of enrollment management and student success at FIT.

O’Rourke noted to the workers in emails that the school had received requests to extend their housing arrangements.

“In consultation with President Brown, we have considered these requests and made the decision to provide you with comparable on-campus accommodations until no later than May 31, 2021,” O’Rourke wrote.  

O’Rourke added that an agreement detailing the terms and conditions will be sent to the workers on Wednesday, and that they will have one week to review, sign and submit it.

A FIT spokesperson did not respond to questions from THE CITY on Tuesday.

One laid-off staffer, who requested anonymity, said they were grateful for the temporary reprieve, but eager to read the agreement.   

“It’s nice to feel like we have been heard, and they’ve listened to at least the response from the community members from the petition,” the worker said.

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