Editorial: Tiered housing system needs greater transparency

The university administration recently announced that it will be implementing a tiered housing system starting in fall 2019. Aside from first-year housing and traditional doubles, triples and quads, on-campus housing prices will increase by $190 to $1,999, depending on the dormitory and housing unit variations. According to the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife), the new system is a “means of responsibly managing and maintaining campus resources” by enabling the university to “sustain expansion, investment, and maintenance of the University’s residential facilities.” Tufts Housing League (THL) responded by issuing a statement and a petition against the new system, condemning it as a “classist pricing scheme.”

This outrage is unsurprising, considering the hefty financial implications of the new policy. Nevertheless, the complexity of this new system and its underlying consequences make it difficult to make a categorical statement in opposition to or in support of the tiered housing structure.

On one hand, the tiered housing system might be a legitimate approach to reducing housing pressures. A recent university report identified 1,488 Tufts students living off campus, Director of Community Relations Barbara Rubel told the Daily last semester. Statistics show that, without an immediate approach, rent prices will continue to rise annually. If the administration delivers on its promise to make, expand and renovate housing options as a result of the tiered system, fewer people will have to go into the off-campus housing market, potentially resulting in lower prices for these students.

Current solutions such as bed optimization and CoHo, though not at all perfect, show that the administration is willing to address the housing crisis. Although bed optimization is unpleasant for people living in forced triples, it provides immediate space for many people. In January, the Medford Zoning Board of Appeals approved 13 university-owned properties for CoHo, concluding that opening homes for 145 students is reasonable. That said, the university’s relocation of university staff and faculty living in those properties is deplorable and still needs to be addressed.

Although the construction of another residential building would be extremely beneficial to students, it is a costly solution that could force the administration to justify an additional hike on campus housing prices, which would likely result in more outrage. Using the revenue from the tiered housing structure to renovate and convert Tufts buildings into dorms could offer another solution to this pervasive problem.

The claim that the tiered housing system is a “classist … scheme” because it leads to “economic segregation” is a reasonable objection, but the price of the unit will not be a pressing issue for students whose housing expenses are completely covered by their financial aid, if the university upholds its commitment.

On a broader note, the fact remains that Tufts will feel ‘classist’ even without the new system, with students of different socioeconomic backgrounds studying and living alongside each other, regardless of the good intentions and efforts of student organizations and university administrators.

The main concern, however, is a scenario in which lower-income students not fully covered by financial aid get trapped into a high-cost unit or forced to move into the off-campus housing market because of a low lottery number. ResLife should make exceptions to the housing lottery for specific individual cases until the lottery itself is no longer needed in the future through the construction of a sustainable number of housing units.

That said, the aforementioned points can be made if one assumes that the hike is proportional and necessary to the administration’s housing plans. The new prices will be a burden, even for many well-off students, especially with ever-rising tuition costs. There is nothing trivial about $1,000 for students on work study and partial financial aid.

Administrators are always in a hard position to determine where resources should be prioritized. It’s good to see that ResLife has updated its off-campus resource guide this semester. However, with the tiered housing system not kicking in for another year, the university should now show concretely how the system will address the on-campus housing shortage. Transparency is needed to reassure students if the additional revenue is going to housing issues, rather than being used to supplement other initiatives. Financial resources should also be available to help less privileged students. Ultimately, the university must continue showing its commitment to both sufficient housing options and socioeconomic diversity.

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