Tufts Housing League hosts panel on housing rights

Disclaimer: Shane Woolley is currently an editorialist at the Daily. Woolley was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

Tufts Housing League (THL) and Tufts Democrats hosted the Housing Rights Panel in the Terrace Room in Paige Hall last night. Panelists discussed the rights of students renting from landlords and the implications of Boston’s housing crisis. Other topics included housing affordability, the emotional burden of housing instability, the racial history of housing policy in Boston and the ethics of universities’ housing policies. Shane Woolley and Jaya Khetarpal, both seniors, moderated the panel.

Khetarpal, who joined THL last semester, said the goal for the panel was to teach students about their housing rights. 

“We were trying to create an event that would help provide students with more information about housing prices not just at Tufts but in our neighboring communities, [and] also give them the tools to fight for their housing rights,” she said.

The panelists included practitioners from the Greater Boston area: Robert Burdick, director of the civil litigation program at Boston University School of Law; Gabrielle Rene, a community organizer at grassroots community organization City Life/Vida Urbana; Grace Holley, a community planning and housing consultant and Alex Milvae, a third-year student at Harvard Law School. Burdick is also an lecturer for Tufts’ Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. 

Holley said that the sheer number of students in Boston who live off campus places an enormous strain on the city’s housing market.

“Developers and real estate owners and speculative owners know that they can charge per head for students,” she said. “That really inflates the market.”

Milvae provided tips for students as they navigate off-campus housing. He said that students should not call their landlord, but instead should email or text about bad conditions in a house. He also encouraged students to use their intuition when considering their landlord’s decisions and to not agree to anything that makes them uncomfortable. 

At the panel, Rene stated that housing is a human right.

“The American dream is to have peace of mind knowing that you can go home and sleep, whether it is a property that has the deed in your name or not,” Rene said. “Every single day, people are fighting to save their homes.”

Nesi Altaras, a senior who attended the event, said he attended to learn more about the housing crisis at Tufts and in Boston. He said he believed Tufts’ payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to Medford and Somerville remains lackluster despite the school’s increasing enrollment. 

“[Tufts] keeps enrolling more and more people every year — they should really cap their class sizes,” he said.

Woolley, who has been involved with THL since 2017, sees parallels between the housing crisis at Tufts and that in the greater Boston area.

“The dynamics that we see here in our housing crisis at Tufts, [like] the lack of available on-campus housing and affordable off-campus housing, mirrors the inequalities and structural housing problems that exist across the country,” he said.

THL organized several high-profile actions last semester to protest the tiered housing system, including a community block party and the Tier Town rally. THL is now working on a housing guide to release by the end of the semester, according to Woolley.

“This semester, we’re trying to take all that energy and redirect it towards more practical guides for students to understand their [position] in the local housing market and at Tufts,” Woolley said.

Khetarpal added that Tufts is currently negotiating its PILOT agreement, so THL is focusing on working with representatives like Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville and Mayor Stephanie Burke of Medford. They are also planning to meet with University President Anthony Monaco about the agreement.