Memo: A Union for Guaranteed Affordable Housing

PGSU sent the following email out to Princeton graduate students on March 17, 2023.

Dear fellow graduate worker:

Grad workers got exciting news last night: Grads at the University of Chicago voted yes for their union by an overwhelming 92% margin! The University of Chicago is affiliated with our national union, UE, and like us seeks to bargain for improvements that raise the standard of graduate research nationwide. Across institutions, Harvard’s graduate student union issued a statement of support for PGSU, which you can read here. Join our effort to improve graduate working conditions by signing your union card today!

Through a union, we can make our living conditions on campus a priority, not an afterthought. Princeton has consistently failed to live up to its “commitments” and “guarantees” to grads concerning affordable housing.

  • In a college town like Princeton, we depend on on-campus housing, but there are now fewer than 1,800 beds on campus for a graduate student population of over 3,200, plus our dependents, partners, and pets. 
  • The new Meadows complex will only increase the number of available beds to around 2,400 – and is supposed to help cover the needs of 700+ postdocs at Princeton and their family members as well. 
  • The number of available beds also includes the Graduate College, which is not a feasible option for many grads, including parents, grads with partners, grads with pets, or grads in need of accommodations.
  • Princeton’s “guarantee” of housing only extends to “regularly enrolled grads,” despite the fact that over 400 DCE grads are currently in residence. 
  • What’s more, as Meadows construction continues to be delayed, Princeton’s grad enrollment grows by an average of 50 each year

For an institution with assets that include a $35.1 billion endowment as well as $5 billion in property, failing to allot the necessary resources to planning for housing all graduate students is a choice. What is more, as a large landlord that can choose to set rent rates, and as a tax-exempt large property owner, Princeton is a major driver of living costs in the area. While Princeton takes up to 60% of our paychecks from us for rent each month, this also creates scarcity such that the over 1,000 grads without a “guaranteed” on-campus room—as well as town residents—pay a much higher percentage of their income or are forced out of the area. 

Because it is in control of the market, Princeton can get away with providing us subpar living conditions:

  • Grads have had difficulty receiving needed accessibility accommodations in what is an intransparent and high-bar process, as well as difficulty actually using apartments described as “accessible” by the housing office.
  • The housing lottery and opaque waitlist process mean grads scramble at the last minute to rent in town if denied adequate housing on-campus.
  • Grads in the GC pay an arbitrary fee back to the college, and must purchase an expensive meal plan that doesn’t offer dinner on site Friday through Sundays, and currently no longer includes breakfast, while experiencing conditions such as inadequate ventilation and dangerously hot rooms. Grads allergic to substances in their apartments have been told this is not a medical hardship qualifying them for a different placement. 
  • As “invited guests” and not “tenants” of the university, grads in on-campus housing have no tenant rights or control over when Princeton employees enter their homes and no contract stating the support they are entitled to from their landlord. This also means grads usually must leave housing within 10 days after defending or if taking a leave of absence. 

To ensure our voices are heard, we are forming a union, where those of us who live in substandard housing and those of us who’ve struggled to find it will be able to bring our issues to the table and negotiate for solutions such as: 

  • The right to negotiate on proposed rent hikes
  • Tenant rights
  • Accommodations for every student who needs them
  • Plans for enrollment and available units to keep pace with each other
  • Better staffing of the housing office

With a union, we will have the power to finally make our housing cost and conditions a priority. Even though housing is not a so-called “mandatory” subject of bargaining, the Princeton administration is 100% able to legally negotiate with our union on these issues. By organizing together in our dorms now, in advance of our election, we can make housing the defining issue of our election victory and be prepared to negotiate for the changes we need. As our colleagues at Harvard state, workplace democracy is about putting power in workers’ hands, and we will decide what we will use that power to do!

Join us today!


PGSU-UE Organizing Committee