Among the economic issues at stake in the lives of graduate students and GEs is the issue of affordable and accessible housing. GEs often are to required to spend a substantial quantity of their entire monthly income on housing. Thus, housing independently is quite arguably the biggest expense graduate students face. While the university manages certain housing establishments in the vicinity of campus, these units are often unaffordable for GEs. This and a lack of university housing availability cause the majority of graduate students and GEs to seek housing in the Eugene and Springfield community, often with meager results. Unsurprisingly, nearly 95% of our membership does not live in university housing. In surveying our membership further on challenges in the overall process of acquiring affordable housing, on a 5 point scale of ‘Very Difficult’ to ‘Very Easy’, nearly 45% reported category 4 of ‘Difficult’. No members indicated category 1 of ‘Very Easy’. In regard to distance from campus, our membership has indicated an average distance of a little over two miles, thus most GEs live in the greater university and downtown area. As over 80% of our membership either walks or bikes as their form of transportation, many GEs depend upon being relatively close to the university.
As many are likely aware, there is a housing shortage in Eugene, coupled with major rent inflation that has skyrocketed over the past four years. Average move-in costs for GEs are nearly $1,600. Monthly average housing costs for GEs reach almost $720.00, which is more than half of one’s income as a GE level II. Generally speaking, GEs face myriad barriers to entry in attempting to acquire affordable and adequate living space. In order to socially reproduce our everyday lives as GEs with our job responsibilities and the research that we conduct, housing for GEs must be made more available and affordable. It is for this reason that we believe that the university must commit to playing a more active role in managing their university housing, in order to protect and support GEs so that they may find appropriate housing in the community.
Speaking for myself, when I was first accepted to the geography master’s program, I began searching for housing in Eugene immediately, and faced significant difficulties in finding anything remotely affordable or available. I eventually managed to find a place to live on a farm in Springfield which, while bucolic, was at a decent distance from campus, and access to public transportation was a challenge. When I later planned to return to the Eugene to continue into the PhD program, I faced scarce options, and was forced choose the lesser option of moving into a space with an inflexible lease and paying nearly 20% more a month for rent than what I previously was paying in Springfield. This is also not to mention that I faced having to put down an inflated deposit that was 20% more than the monthly rent itself. As I was coming from New England, I had to have sufficient resources in order to travel 3,000 miles and rent a space. This was compounded by the fact that I could not find any available housing until a week before I had to leave New England to be in Eugene, as site-unseen was the only option available to me. Many landlords will of course refuse to commit to a lease for those they do not first interview in person. I was turned down by other property owners for this reason, or was ignored, for this reason. In order to move here and acquire a living space, one must at least in part work off of credit in order to make cash flow where it is immediately required.
As GEs we have the working responsibilities of grading, teaching, and doing research. We are expected to produce quality academic work in order to enable to the university to appear more competitive. In order to better enable graduate students to do these things, and in order to make the University of Oregon a more competitive institution, it is the responsibility of the university internally to work towards making housing more available to GEs. Neglecting housing for graduate students in the regards that we will illustrate actually makes the university appear less competitive. For example, In January it was noted by the Daily Emerald that the East Campus houses have been the victims of infrastructural negligence and improper maintenance, and the university is choosing not to invest in these properties. As a result, they remain infested with mold, causing health problems to tenants. According to the Emerald, out of the 74 East Campus properties owned by the university, 40 of them have reportedly had mold. Many of these houses are now “offline”, and are not available to graduate students. A family was forced out of one of these houses due to mold negligence, and sued the university for over $100,000. These inequalities understandably act as a deterrent for GEs looking for adequate and affordable living space. Transparency regarding applying for and acquiring university housing is a logical commitment to expect the university to make in order to better invest in the bodies that produce the research that represents the institution as a whole.
Within our membership, we have heard from GEs who have reported a diverse mix of precarious living situations, including homelessness. This is representative of the greater issue of homelessness in Eugene which has continued to be ignored by many of the important players within the community. It should be a wake-up call that the university employs GEs who do not actually have a place to live. Thus all major employers and institutional bodies in the Eugene community writ large have a responsibility to the people that live and work here. We hope the university administration sees these issues as a shared interest. Is the university really pragmatically complacent when it comes to their GEs actually being homeless? It is not too much to expect that university housing infrastructure is well maintained and habitable, in order to encourage competitive graduate students to attend this university?