The United Automobile Workers (UAW) 2865 union, Student Researchers Union, UC San Diego Resident Coalition and The Faculty Association organized a housing justice rally last Friday, Oct. 1, in efforts to gather momentum for and raise visibility of the movement to address UCSD’s housing crisis.
Around 60 students gathered outside Geisel Library at noon, holding cardboard signs and a stark banner reading “UC Scam Diego: Affordable Housing Now”. Amidst a backdrop of cheery percussion, participants and passers-by watched as various organizers took to the stage to express their indignant anger towards UCSD’s housing policies.
In March, Housing Dining Hospitality announced its plans to increase rent solely for incoming students, making attending university far less affordable for prospective graduate students. Initially, it had planned to impose a “one-time rate adjustment” for nearly all graduate student residents but changed this policy soon after a highly negative response from students, residents, and faculty. Students cited HDH’s lack of transparency and lack of involvement of affected parties as reasons for their dissatisfaction. In addition, it would further tax an already rent-burdened graduate student population.
UCSD also admitted a record 40,616 first-year and 12,330 transfer undergraduate students this fall. In spite of the opening of the new North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood that boasts 2,000 new beds, the sheer number of students, as well as COVID-19 housing precautions, have forced many students off campus.
Affordable housing has long been a point of contention between the UCSD administration and students. In Feb. 2020, UCSD Academic Student Employees marched from Library Walk to the Chancellor’s Office as part of the UC systemwide Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) movement. They were protesting the rent increase HDH had imposed on graduate students and called on officials to keep student housing affordable.
Fourth-year graduate student Dillon Travis, who had previously spoken to The UCSD Guardian at a UAW-led protest on graduate housing, said that he continues to be frustrated over UCSD’s handling of the housing crisis.
“Being rent-burdened puts way too much undue stress on graduate students who are already way more stressed than the general population,” Travis said. “The UC continually makes it worse… [UCSD] accepted tens of thousands of new students without being able to house them, forcing them onto an already tight housing market… There are students that (are) begging to stay in people’s living rooms.”
Other graduate students said they were similarly angered at HDH’s decision to raise graduate student housing rent during the pandemic. In an interview with The Guardian, third-year graduate student Zach Goldberg described the dire housing situation graduate students face, as well as the simmering anger this has created amongst the graduate student population.
“We’re here [at the rally] because starting [around March], HDH [announced] insane rent increases, averaging around 40 percent, but ranging from like 20 to 85 percent,” Goldberg said. “Just making it totally unaffordable to live here.”
In an email to The Guardian, Associate Director of University Communications Leslie Sepuka reiterated UCSD’s commitment to continue doing its best to accommodate as many students who apply for on-campus housing as possible.
“UC San Diego controls what it can by providing robust financial aid, continuing to invest in the construction of student housing and providing on-campus housing for students at rates that are more favorable than the local rental market,” Sepuka said.
Sepuka also explained to The Guardian that there are many avenues for students and administration to communicate about housing issues.
“Housing, Dining and Hospitality meets with the Undergraduate Housing Advisory Committee (UHAC) weekly during the academic year,” Sepuka wrote. “HDH, along with UHAC, hosts a quarterly open forum where housing and dining updates are shared. Students are welcome to ask any questions. In addition, HDH accepts suggestions and ideas from all residents directly.”
However, students at the rally tell a different story. According to Seventh College AS Senator Ian Fosth, efforts to negotiate with the university have been overwhelmingly unproductive.
“(We) had presented a resolution, which received close to a thousand signatures, detailing a list of demands and suggestions … talking to administration, [HDH members and representatives],” Fosth said. “We have received little to no give, and we have received little to no provisions. None of our demands have been met.”
For instance, Fosth elaborated that he and his colleague had proposed starting a couch surfing registry to aid students who were unable to find housing in the competitive La Jolla housing market. However, they were told this could not be implemented due to COVID-19 precautions and fire marshal guidelines.
“[Yet], for graduate students, those same precautions [and guidelines]) have been cast aside,” Fosth explained.
Goldberg echoed Fosth’s frustration with UCSD and said that students have made several attempts to reach out to UCSD.
“We’ve held other rallies,” Goldberg said. “We’ve held meetings. We’ve sent letters and resolutions… University [administration] is quite united in their complete opposition to our movement, so we’re working on building our power, so that eventually they’ll have no choice but to listen to us.”
Students who need additional resources in achieving housing stability can reach out to the Off-Campus Housing Office, where they can schedule a housing consultation to review off-campus housing options.
They can also explore UCSD’s Basic Needs Emergency Grant, which is available to students that do not have sufficient funds for food or housing because of a medical emergency, impacts from COVID-19, or any other urgent financial need.
Photos by Irvin Yang for the UCSD Guardian