A group of University of Colorado graduate students has asked the city to address affordable housing for graduate students.
A representative of the Boulder Committee on Rights and Compensation, a graduate student advocacy group and labor organization seeking a collective bargaining agreement with the university, appeared at the City Council meeting Tuesday. The CRC also provided a list of recommendations to the Housing Advisory Board ahead of the board‘s meeting Wednesday.
“We‘re looking for ways to alleviate the housing crisis that‘s happening among the graduate students right now,” graduate student Carly Anderson Stewart told the council during open comment Tuesday. “We‘re here today to directly ask the council if you‘ll make some kind of special provisions enabling more graduate students to become eligible for low-income housing.
“At a median house price of about $850,000, it‘s expensive to live in Boulder even if you make a living wage, and many, probably most, graduate students don‘t make a living wage — not even close.”
At the end of Anderson Stewart‘s comment, Councilwoman Lisa Morzel told her the CU Board of Regents would be another outlet for possible solutions.
“You have another place you should go, too,” Morzel said. “That‘s the CU Regents, and to the university.”
“We do speak to them a lot, and they actually told us to go to the city,” Anderson Stewart replied.
Morzel said student housing is a longtime issue in the community, and she‘d be happy to look for solutions but the university would need to as well.
Proposals to the city
The CRC has proposed to the city six possible solutions to ease the burden on graduate students: make more low-income housing available to graduate students; make full-time graduate students that meet the income requirements eligible for low-income rentals; change the city‘s occupancy limits on dwellings; build dedicated graduate student apartment complexes in partnership with CU; allow RVs, converted buses, tiny houses and motor homes to serve as dwellings; and encourage CU to pay graduate students more.
The Housing Advisory Board has a CU subcommittee, made up of board members Jacques Julliand and Adam Swetlik, and they‘re considering the list now, though it remains to be seen which, if any, of the recommendations the board will prioritize in next year‘s work plan.
“All of the things that were mentioned resonate with us, and to a large degree they‘re things we are engaging with already in some form, or at least have on our plate as things to look at,” Julliand said.
The board was created earlier this year and is short one member, so they still have work to do to finalize their roles and address immediate needs from council before they can finalize their priorities for the next year, he said. He and Swetlik both said they‘d like to see collaboration among the board, CU students and CU as an organization to solve community housing issues together.
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Swetlik said he and Julliand would also like to form a mini-advisory group, composed mainly of students, to provide more information about student housing as they move forward. Although they would also like to include faculty and staff, he said, they would prioritize student voices because those are the voices that are heard the least.
“Students make up a huge part of the community, so it only makes sense that we address their housing issues,” he said. He added that although wages are not within the board‘s purview, he supports a living wage for graduate students.
Graduate student worker wages
Last year, the average graduate teaching assistant made $21,051; the average graduate research assistant made $22,408; and the average graduate student in other roles made $20,199, according to data provided by the university.
The averages are based on a 20-hour-per-week position during the academic year. They exclude summer appointments, student assistant pay, one-time payments and university contributions of $3,630 to health care premiums, as well as tuition remission, according to the university. Graduate student workers received a 6.2 percent salary increase for the coming academic year.
However, Anderson Stewart said in an interview with the Daily Camera, graduate student workers often work more than the 20-hour-per-week cap imposed by the university, which reduces the amount of time they might be able to work other jobs. Especially for graduate student workers making less than the averages, she said, they are rent-burdened living in Boulder — which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines as paying more than 30 percent of income for housing.
In a , respondents reported paying an average of $970 a month in rent. By that calculation, a graduate research assistant would use 51 percent of their stipend to pay rent, though the CRC contends that the burden is often more.
“You can‘t buy food with a tuition remission,” Anderson Stewart said. “Essentially they‘re telling us part of our income is money they don‘t charge us.”
CU is addressing the need for more graduate student housing by converting Athens North residence hall into graduate student housing next fall; putting together a Graduate and Family Housing standing committee to solicit feedback about the housing facility master plan; and hosting focus groups this fall.
“We will continue to explore options including new construction, renovation, and leasing of housing facilities to help meet our graduate students‘ housing needs,” graduate school Dean Ann Schmiesing wrote in her August newsletter to students. She has the university is aware of the housing challenges graduate students face.
Anderson Stewart — who moved to Denver for her husband‘s job, commutes to Boulder by bus and went into debt paying rent in Boulder before her husband found his job — said the CRC would like to see the both the university and the city work more quickly.
“It‘s too slow when people are already living illegally and paying 70 percent of their income to rent,” she said. “There‘s a joke among graduate students that we‘re all one root canal away from financial disaster.”
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