Student housing remains a problem at UMass Amherst

By Tyler Manoukian, Melissa Gately, and Remy Schwartz

Drastic changes have been made by the division of Student Affairs and Campus Life (SACL) due to the high demand for on campus housing.

Vice Chancellor and Executive Director of Student Affairs and Campus Life,  Jean Kim stated “We have known for a couple years that we would be hitting a crunch for undergraduate housing.”

Student Affairs has become a hot topic in recent Daily Collegian headlines and causing a rift between the undergraduate and graduate student body and the University.

“This is a pressing issue because the SACL decisions are having influential effects on the student body,” according to Katie Landeck, editor of The Daily Collegian.

Student Affairs has decided to raise the rent and move all families out of the Lincoln Apartments to house the surplus of undergraduates who wish live on campus.

The Lincoln Apartments, located on the south side of campus, right behind southwest has been known to occupy graduate students and some faculty workers. There has are no reports of undergraduates living in the Lincoln Apartments at the time of this writing.

But the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) believes the impending SACL changes violate the Wellman Document.

According to GSS Treasurer, Robin Anderson, the Wellman Document is defined as,  “ A governance document, stating that governing bodies on campus that are recognized by the university have the right to have their input heard on any policies changes that directly affect them.”

On April 4, the Graduate Student Senate wrote a formal letter to Chancellor Robert Holub, demanding  him to suspend the new policy so both governing bodies could re-evaluate the new policy and asked for a response by April 13.

There was no response by April 19 when the GSS held meeting and eventually voted 11-2 for no confidence in Vice Chancellor Kim and Executive Director of Residential Life Edward Hull.

Reportedly neither Kim nor Hull have responded but Anderson believes the GSS has made their motives clear to Jean Kim and Edward Hull, who are very much aware of the situation.

“It’s an ongoing thing, a trend towards the erosion of on-campus housing for graduate students” says Matthew Ferrari, Family Issues Advocate for the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO).

Ferrari says the changes allows the University to increase its revenue by 100 percent because it will now be able to charge $750 per person in each apartment in Lincoln. Under the new guidelines for the Lincoln residential area, tenants, which will include undergraduate and graduate students, must adhere to a 24-hour quiet policy.

Occupancy for the Lincoln apartments will increase to 160 students  in 2013, and again to 182 in 2014. The housing shift effectively removes all graduate family housing options from the Lincoln apartments and funnels all families into the North Village apartments next year and beyond.

“With international students, it’s a tricky situation because they are only allowed to work 20 hours per work, they can’t find jobs outside of campus, it has to be within campus. These changes directly impact [graduate students] in ways more negatively than the [UMass student] population,” says Anderson.

“Their housing needs to reflect [these restrictions,]” says Ferrari. “If the University wants to raise our wages accordingly, that’s fine. They either need to do that or lower rent, or keep it where it is at the very least.”

Graphic Courtesy of Matthew Ferrari, Family Issues Advocate for the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO)

According to Ferrari, “The average graduate stipend is about $14,000 or $15,000 and rent is about 50-60% of that every year  and to put in perspective, Vice Chancellor Kim would be paying about $12,000 per month and Chancellor Holub would be paying about $20,000 per month.”

The UMass Strategic Residential Plan [page 23 of 27], a qualitative and quantitative study done by Biddison Hier, a higher education consulting firm, on residential life in 2002 asserts that nearly all graduate students are dependent on their stipends for a living and are therefore in a price sensitive situation, and the University should provide housing for a cost that is reasonable based on a graduate student’s stipend.

“[The University is] trying to fix the vacancy issues at North Village by evicting families from Lincoln and trying to fill North Village with [those families] because of the 6 to 12 percent vacancy rate,” said Ferrari.

Perhaps the biggest impact of these changes will be the University’s struggle to recruit and retain top-level researchers from abroad believes Ferrari.

The Framework of Excellence, a vision created by the Chancellor and President, put emphasis on recruiting top-level researchers and becoming a premier international research institution, but when the cost of living is higher than the stipend a graduate student would receive, its hard to recruit the talent to fill those research positions.

“Most of these top-level researchers are going to have other options, like the University of Connecticut or Rutgers,” Ferrari says. “I know for a fact that the average annual stipend is anywhere from $16,000 to $25,000 and the cost of living is about the same.”

“This trend we are seeing, it’s very similar to how they’ve handled other university situations such as recent the peer mentor situation and the housing shortage in general this year,” says Landeck.

“A lot of graduate students are going to have to live off campus and may have to buy cars, meaning more vehicle traffic coming into Amherst” says Ferrari.

“Student Affairs has a motto throughout campus that this is a ‘student first’ campus,” says Anderson. “It’s everywhere and we would actually like to see that in practice – not just a motto that they can put up on their websites and in their pamphlets to sell the university to prospective students.”

One thought on “Student housing remains a problem at UMass Amherst

  1. Pingback: My Experiences Reporting on the UMass Housing Shortage | UMass Housing Shortage Epidemic

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