Family Housing, GSS Government

GSS Convenes Open Forum on 6.5% Family Housing Rent Increase; Housing Director Responds

This afternoon, approximately 25 graduate students convened in the Campus Center with members of the university administration to discuss plans for a 6.5% Family Housing rent increase in FY 2012.

Eddie Hull, Executive Director of Housing and Residence Life and Liz Brown, Assistant Director of Housing Services for Finance were present.

According to Hull, the rent increase request is intended “to preserve the financial viability of the (housing) program.”

“When we added all the pieces up, it led to a 6.5% rent increase, and that’s to get us to a zero-base budget,” Hull said. “In order to provide a responsible budget in terms of what it’s going to cost, this is what we have to come to.”

This is the fourth rent increase for students living in Family Housing in the last four years, and also the most substantial. The rental increase for FY 2011 was 1.5%.

Hull stated that family housing rental rates at UMass have been suppressed historically, and that from the administration’s perspective, this no longer possible.

“Going forward…we can’t support financially the way decisions have been made in the past…where rates are suppressed,” Hull said.

Hull also pointed out that while Residential Housing and Family Housing have separate budgets, Family Housing has not been charged costs affiliated with housing administration. According to Hull, “To one extent or another, residence halls have been subsidizing family housing.”

When Matt Ferrari, a PhD student in the Department of Communication, asked why such a subsidization was problematic, Hull asserted that Family Housing and Residential Housing serve “very different populations in very different types of facilities. The mission of a family housing system is different…they generally seek to provide a different service.”

Ferrari reported a “real disconnect” between the university’s rhetoric about educational accessibility and its policies. “If affordability is the primary goal of family housing, they’re not meeting their goal….I don’t think they understand our needs as graduate students.”

Hull noted that while part of his job is “to advocate and ask some of the harder questions” of the administration, there is “no university commitment to build new housing for graduate students.”

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), housing affordability is defined as spending no more than 30 percent of annual household income on housing. The average UMass graduate student with a family spends over 50% of her income on rent, and is severely “rent burdened”, under the HUD definition.

One graduate student noted that the proposed rent increase will the rent for a one bedroom apartment in North Village to “around $742/month, which puts it in the same range as downtown Amherst or Northampton.” This student then asked Hull “Why should we come back to North Village?”

“If you’re asking me to make the argument based on facilities, I can’t,” Hull conceded. “If you’re asking me to make the argument that it’s different than living downtown in a three-story walkup, it’s different. You have a similar or at least complementary neighbors with similar interests, in very important respects we’re selling an experience more than an address.”

Hull continued, “If you’re asking me as a facilities person, if you ask if it’s fair and comparable to what’s on the open market, I can’t make an argument based on the facilities. We’ll never do it this way again.”

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