What we want
a. More housing now and in the long term
b. Better housing now and in the long term
c. Fairer housing for families
d. Graduate students need a voice
Everyone in the graduate student community knows that the current housing system has real problems that need to be addressed. PGSU members, by speaking directly with grads and listening to their issues, needs, desires, and ideas, have compiled the following proposals that we believe have the potential to drastically improve the graduate housing experience here at Princeton. Each section of the platform includes testimonials from your fellow grad students about the problems they’ve faced and why they support PGSU. This platform is continually evolving as we hear more about the changes grads want to see — have an idea or want your story to be heard? Contact us today at AskPGSU@gmail.com!
What we want
More housing now and in the long term
Princeton Graduate Students need more housing options now, and we can’t wait for the next graduate housing complex to be built. There are several measures that should be taken immediately to increase the stock of affordable housing options for grads. Although the University publicly commits to providing 70% of grads with housing, that number does not include family members or DCE & ET/DCC students. Without a renewed investment in graduate student housing, Princeton risks falling behind peer institutions like Stanford, which will be able to house 85% of their graduate population by 2019.
Block leasing/partnership with local apartment complex
Graduate students could immediately have access to expanded housing options through a partnership or a block leasing program with a local apartment complex. The university secures a block of units and make them available to graduate students at rents comparable to those in graduate housing. Block leasing will help grads living off-campus have a better sense of community and help the University improve services such as transportation.
Off-campus housing subsidy
Another way to improve off-campus housing options is a subsidy for students who lose their on-campus housing and have to move off-campus. This would allow us to obtain more affordable off-campus housing within easy commuting distance from campus. It also encourages grads to remain in the Princeton area instead of moving to other cities, such as Philadelphia, where rent is cheaper.
Expand grad access to existing housing (partial win!)
In prior years, grads lived in units at the existing Merwick Stanworth complex, but after the completion of Lakeside, it has been converted into faculty, staff, and low-income public housing. In response to graduate student activism, the university announced in May 2017 that it would open 30 beds in Merwick Stanworth to grads to help alleviate the housing shortage. This was a step in the right direction. Although not sufficient, it shows that making existing housing options more available to grads could be coupled with other options such as block leasing to drastically improve housing options in the short term.
Clear timetable for expansion of graduate housing
We’ve heard that the administration is looking into building a new graduate housing complex, possibly south of Lake Carnegie or on the old Butler tract, but as of yet there is no clear timetable for the project. The university can show that it’s serious about improving graduate housing by communicating their plans and keeping us informed. Until the University commits to a timetable, we can’t know how long we’ll have to wait for improvements.
Better housing now and in the long term
The problems with graduate housing go beyond a lack of housing stock. Operational and maintenance issues have plagued the housing office, leading to widespread frustration among grads. There’s a number of concrete, simple steps that can be taken to improving housing operations and communications between the housing office and grads.
Hire a Director of Graduate Housing!
When James Poole left his position as director of graduate housing, Princeton grads lost one of their best allies in the housing department. The position has sat unfilled for over a year. We need an administrator who will prioritize our concerns and work to ensure that grads are better served by the housing office.
Tracking system for operational issues (win!)
A major issue that needs to be resolved is the lack of communication between the housing office and grads. Rather than send emails that may or may not be returned, we should have a ticketing system that allows us to submit a problem, receive a ticket number, and track that issue until it’s resolved. Thanks to graduate student activism, the housing office has indicated that they’re working with the Office of Information Technology on a pilot program! Expect to hear updates about its implementation over the next year.
Improve housing transparency
One reason why grads feel so frustrated with grad housing is that we don’t know what’s going on! Improving operations transparency would go along way to restoring confidence in the system. A live housing draw and wait list updates so we can track our chances of getting housing and can know sooner if we have to look off campus. Releasing the code that determines housing priority and statistics of successful draws and acceptance rates of offers will show whether or not the system is working. And finally, the housing office has stated that it is performing a review of its internal operations. Releasing the results of that study will reveal if the housing office understands the problems grads have been facing.
Fairer housing for families
Graduate students with families, especially those with children, have a different set of needs and deserve special policies to address them. A large portion of available housing units are not suitable for families with children, and these face significantly higher housing costs. We need to make sure these students get the affordable and acceptable housing they need.
Formal definition of “family” for housing purposes
The first step towards improving housing for graduate students with families will be to develop a formalized definition of who qualifies for family benefits. This definition can include multiple categories, such as grad with dependents and married grads without dependents. Once a grad has their family status confirmed, they would automatically be eligible for family benefits.
Better housing for families with children
A vast majority of Princeton students support establishing designated family housing for grads with children. This will ensure that sufficient and suitable housing options are available to families until the university can build purpose-built family units in the next grad housing complex. Furthermore, the university must do more to alleviate the serious financial burden that housing represents for grads with dependents, who often spend over 50% of their monthly income on rent. We concur with the Graduate Student Government’s recommendation that university offer special, subsidized rents for families.
Fix housing policies for partners and spouses
Right now, there are policy problems and inconsistencies for Graduate Students who live with their spouses or domestic partners. Two married students are required to enter room draw as a couple, which halves their chances of getting the housing they want. Why should some students lose their chance just because they’re married? Some students have been told by the housing office to ignore this policy, so why have it in the first place. Spouses who are listed on the housing contract should have full rights as tenants; currently that’s not the case. We need fair and clearly-defined policies, not half measures.
Graduate students need a voice
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Establish grad-led supervisory body with real power
Right now, when a grads have a problem with housing, their only recourse is to appeal to the sympathy of the housing office. If the housing office makes a mistake, breaks a promise, or refuses to help, there’s nothing we can do to change the situation. This needs to change. The only way to improve housing operations will be to improve accountability; we need a grad-led housing supervisory committee that has the power to enact real change and intercede on behalf of grads.
Graduate student input on the next housing complex
The best way to ensure that future housing developments address the needs of grads is to give us a bigger role and a bigger voice during the planning stages. The Graduate Housing Project report shows that the university didn’t adequately consider grad’s needs when planning Lakeside. For example, although affordable studio apartment units are considered very desirable by grads, no such units were built in Lakeside. Instead, they built expensive one-bedroom apartments. The affordable units, 4-bedroom townhouses, are insufficient in number and, according to the GHP’s survey, unacceptable to a majority of respondents.
Recognize our Union!
Princeton Graduate Students United is the largest graduate student group on campus, and exists to advocate exclusively for the needs of graduate students. Almost every grad we talk to brings up the issue of housing, which demonstrates the extent to which it is a problem for us. By recognizing our union, the university recognizes not only our important role and contribution to the university more broadly but also that graduate students know what’s best for ourselves.
Like what you see? Think something’s missing? Let us know at AskPGSU@gmail.com