Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

University Village residents address high rent prices and poor living conditions to UMass administration

University Village residents presented a list of demands to UMass administration
Jack Underhill/Daily Collegian (2023)

On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 22, residents of the newly constructed University Village family housing complex, accompanied by members of the Graduate Employee Organization and other supporters congregated in front of the Whitmore Administration building with a letter of demands to improve housing conditions and rent costs.

Once around 15 people were in attendance outside, they entered the building and walked up to the third floor where their demands were received by Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Andrew Mangels.

Kevin Sun, a graduate student studying history and an elected membership organizer for GEO, presented the letter of demands and read a statement to Mangels. The statement addressed various grievances regarding the cost and quality of University Village housing that are affecting the personal and academic lives of its residents.

Complaints outlined in the statement described residents going into debt to pay for their apartments and “choosing between basic necessities for their children and paying the rent.” The statement also referenced issues concerning a lack of heating as well as the heating system vibrating the apartments.

Sun is not a resident of University Village but has been communicating closely with the residents to ensure that their grievances are heard. GEO, which Sun is an member of, is a unit of United Auto Workers Local 2322 representing research assistants, teaching assistants, teaching associates, project assistants, interns, trainees, assistant residence directors and working fellows at UMass. Many of the residents at the apartment complex are a part of GEO.

The letter presented to Mangels outlined five demands. The first and most pressing demand was that the rent burden be dramatically reduced. Specifically, the residents demanded that the rent be tied to 30 percent of a 20-hour graduate assistantship, amounting to $784.84 each month.

While graduate assistantships are available, they are not guaranteed, and many graduate students do not work full 20-hour assistantships. The letter also highlighted other costs that international students and parents pay that make it increasingly difficult to pay their rent costs.

Sun’s statement addressed that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines “rent burdened” as spending more than 30 percent of household income on housing and “severely rent burdened” as more than 50 percent. According to Sun, many international students and students with families are spending up to 73 percent of their income on rent.

“Some people are digging into savings, going into debt, just to just to pay off the rent, take care of the families and whatnot,” Sun said.

According to the University website on Family Housing, current residents pay a Base Room Fee on a per semester basis. Residents claim to currently pay a monthly value of $1,600.

  • Spring: $8,800 from January 16 to June 30
  • Summer: $1,600 for the month of July
  • Fall: $8,800 from August 1 to January 15

Residents are also demanding “retroactive back-rent starting from September of 2022” and an “end of living fees for things such as parking.” A resident in attendance spoke of her negative experience with having visitor cars being towed without any prior notice.

The letter also requested that the balance of rent be separate from other University fee balances on their Spire accounts and that “all residents should be allowed to pay their rent monthly, rather than all at once or installments.”

The residents expect a response to their demands by April 5.

After the statement was read and residents voiced their grievances, Mangels stated that the new facility was still a work in progress and emphasized that the University is very understanding of international families.

Tianyi Qu, a student pursuing her PhD in finance, is a resident of the apartment complex that attended the walk into Whitmore. Not only is Qu a doctoral candidate, but she is also a mother of an 18-month-old daughter. She described how her daughter was playing near her apartment window that resides very low to the ground and is accessible to a child.

“She can easily reach to the window and when she was playing, she accidentally kicked the window and the window just broke into small pieces,” said Qu. “If it’s a good quality window, it will crack but not fall into pieces. But [it fell] into pieces and broke, hurt her legs and we [brought] her to the emergency room … and luckily everything’s fine.”

Qu emphasized that if the window could be broken by an 18 month old child, it was not a good quality window. When she notified the University of the window quality, Qu said that the University denied responsibility because her baby kicked the window.

“I actually claimed to get some funding for the emergency fee, like only $100. That’s a lot for us … and they denied that claim. Yeah, they say it’s none of their business,” Qu said.

Qu also requested for screens to be placed in front of the windows, but this request was also denied. Qu has also had to call maintenance to change her toilet, sink and drawer knobs, and has notified maintenance that her electricity trips fairly frequently.

“They come like almost 10 times in our apartment and fixing this, fixing that and still lots of problems coming up. Like it’s not in a good quality,” Qu said.

Sun indicated that residents met with Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy in January, sharing many of the same grievances concerning rent and maintenance. However, no action has been taken since that meeting.

“Residents still have problems with their air conditioning and heating, the rent is still too high. The only thing that’s changed is that, you know, we’ve become, you know, the residents have become more organized,” Sun said.

University Village is a recent development with its first residents moving in the Summer of 2022. Much of the community is still under construction, so a limited number of apartments were available for rent.

“People [are] not really paying attention to us who are living there because the other apartments are still under construction. So it’s a mess there but we are still paying the full rent. So that’s why we think it’s not worth it,” Tianyi Qu, a University Village resident, said.

This new construction of University Village comes after the demolition of the North Village residences in June 2020. Sun said that a deal was struck allowing North Village residents to move into University Village and pay with their former rent rate of $1,150 a month. “So clearly it’s possible for the University to lower the rent,” Sun said.

Hannah, a history graduate student who wishes to keep her last name anonymous, is part of the housing committee and the organizing committee at GEO. She has been working closely with residents at University Village and has noticed the high rent rates and lack of quality in maintenance.

“The University thinks that they can get away with like massively high rent prices, just because these buildings are ‘newer,’ but they’re constructed super poorly,” Hannah said. “It seems that the University thinks they can push around graduates in tenuous positions without any accountability for that.”

UMass spokesperson Edward Blaguszewski addressed in a statement that the housing market both in Amherst and statewide has become “increasingly expensive” but that “student family housing is actually priced below market rates.”

“The University recognizes the financial pressures and difficulties that graduate students and their families are facing,” Blaguszewski said. “UMass administrators are currently studying ways that the university might provide additional support to graduate student[s] and their families to help address their financial needs.”

When asked what the next steps looked like in addressing these housing issues, Sun indicated it was dependent on the University.

“If they continue to ignore us or kind of shortchange us then … we’ll be back with something else,” Sun said.

*Editor’s note: Collegian Staff Reporter Olivia Capriotti contributed to this article.

Jack Underhill can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JackUnderhill16.

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