Student Employees Rally for Affordable Housing

Rallying for affordable housing and an end to rent burdens, UC San Diego Academic Student Employees marched from Library Walk to the Chancellor’s Office on Feb. 10, 2020. Taking part in the Cost of Living Adjustment movement, these students called upon the university to take greater steps to reduce the costs of student housing to promote affordability. 

Working in conjunction with the United Automobile Workers 2865 union, the protesting students noted that they are paying on average $1,067 per month for rent and utilities even though they are earning a post-fee salary of $2,259 per month. This housing cost would equate to 47 percent of the students’ total earnings, which is well beyond the 30 percent baseline to be defined as rent burdened by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

“The first demand is to give a housing stipend to all of the student teachers and graduate students on campus so that we are no longer rent burdened,” third-year graduate student and UAW 2865 organizing committee lead Dillon Travis said to the UCSD Guardian. “The university has new graduate student housing that they are charging an exorbitant amount of money on and we can’t afford it. And our third demand is that in the future, they build more high-density affordable housing on campus as well.” 

Once the march made it to the Chancellor’s Office, the protestors left a letter for Chancellor Pradeep Khosla regarding housing affordability. However, according to the UAW, no one from the office has reached out to them. 

“The protest is not over,” Travis said. “The administration has not contacted us at all and they do not want to open up bargaining. So we will continue to escalate the situation … We are going to have more and more demonstrations as the year goes by. Not just marches, but we will have grade-ins and [use other methods of] civil disobedience.”

The UCSD administration has responded in return by stressing that they are supporting the Graduate Division at levels which exceed all the tuition that is collected. $150 million is allocated annually to support PhD students, $21 million for teaching assistant salaries and $72 million in grant funding. 

“Effective January 1, 2020, any graduate student within the period of support guaranteed by their admission letter is now supported at the minimum level equivalent to a 50 percent TAship (20 hours per week employment); in prior years, some such students were supported at lower levels, but that is no longer occurring,” a university spokesperson said to the Guardian in an email. “The Graduate Division is also presently working with academic units, GSA, and Student Affairs to strengthen fellowship support, smooth the matching process between students and TAships, and better match TAships with courses according to pedagogical needs.”

Even with these initiatives, COLA and UAW believe more needs to be done. Depending on which demands the organization has outlined, they will have to work with either the university administration or the self-supporting Housing, Dining, and Hospitality department. Because student housing is controlled by HDH, bargaining will become a more complex process. 

“Our demands for having a housing stipend will come from the administration,” Travis said. “For our demands for affordable housing, we would have to have the university bargain on our behalf to HDH or we will have to bargain directly with HDH. But the administration, as we continue to escalate [protests], will try to divide faculty, student teachers, and undergraduates. In the coming months, it is important we are all united in solidarity.”

In response to student demands, the administration has also made efforts to highlight their current support programs and to refute claims that housing is not affordable. 

“UC San Diego is committed to providing on-campus housing for students at rates that are at least 20 percent below market value,” the spokesperson said. “Additional support for student needs is also available. UC San Diego has established a Basic Needs Emergency Fund to directly support students needing assistance up to $1,500. The Basic Needs Hub provides resource referrals for UC San Diego students from a collective of on campus program collaborations and services, and off campus program partnerships in the greater San Diego area.”

That 20 percent, the protestors claim, is not enough to offset the high costs of housing. Urban affluent areas like La Jolla remain expensive for students to live even when the 20 percent is factored into the overall monthly rent costs.

The protest seen on Monday is a microcosm of the greater frustration growing throughout the UC system. In conjunction with UCSD’s demonstration, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, UC Davis, and UC Berkeley protested last Monday, Feb. 17. However, particularly at UCSC, where the COLA movement started, student strikes throughout last week led to violent altercations with the police which then led to multiple arrests. ASEs there have also withheld grades as part of the strike. 

“UCSC is the school to have your eye on because they are on strike,” Travis said. “It is unsanctioned, but it is definitely supported by union members. They completely shut down their campus for the last several days. Several students have been sent to the hospital, because the police have bludgeoned them. Eighteen or 19 students have gotten arrested. I think that that campus is going to be the first to budge in our favor.”

To learn more about UAW’s demands, please refer to their Cost of Living Framework Summary. The administration has noted that HDH holds regular meetings to discuss the budget, the next being held on Feb. 24, that students can attend to share their opinions. 

Photo by Jacob Sutherland for the UCSD Guardian.

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