Thousands of UW workers — the people who maintain buildings, serve food, help students access financial aid, provide quality instruction, innovative research and medical care — cannot afford to live anywhere near UW.
The University of Washington administration’s recent announcement that it will build at least 150 subsidized housing units in the University District for faculty and staff is a welcome step. We’re glad the administration recognizes that housing has reached a crisis point. But it’s barely a drop in the bucket when you consider the need.
Almost 29,000 workers make UW the great institution that it is, including the nearly 4,500 academic student employees, who make up our union, UAW 4121.
Increasingly, the academic student employees and thousands of other UW co-workers — the people who manage grants and programs, maintain buildings, serve food, help students access financial aid, provide quality instruction, innovative research and medical care — are faced with renting substandard housing, overcrowded apartments and long commutes because we cannot afford to live anywhere near UW.
By the university’s own recent employee survey, housing costs are a stressor for nearly three quarters of respondents, and more than 90 percent indicated that rent or mortgage cost was the most important factor in choosing where to live.
Nationally, those spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs are considered “rent burdened.” An informal survey of fellow academic student employees in one department found that most are rent burdened. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for an academic student employee to split the cost of an average two-bedroom apartment in Seattle — now more $2,000 a month — without being rent burdened.
The work we and our fellow academic student employees do is critical to making the UW the elite institution it is. We carry out cutting-edge research to screen for pancreatic cancer, uncover racial biases and protect coastal communities from the damages of algal blooms. We also provide more than half of the instructional hours for undergraduate students. Yet, we are struggling to afford to live here — to do the work we came to the UW to pursue.
As a world-class institution, UW must do better. We believe the UW needs a much more ambitious plan for addressing the housing affordability crisis. That plan must be centered on answering the needs of the thousands of workers — a challenge that includes ensuring that those workers can afford to live near where they work.
At a minimum, this means:
• Establishment of housing subsidies for UW workers, especially those in lower income brackets, and international students and employees.
• Commitment to wage increases that reflect cost-of-living increases.
• Recognition that increased tuition and student fees aren’t reflected in income brackets but nonetheless make rent harder to afford.
• Increased development of affordable housing in the University District.
• Commitment to join with our union and others to demand that the city place higher requirements on developers when it comes to affordable housing construction and affordable housing set-asides.
We’re pleased that the university administration recognizes the need for more affordable housing. But academic student employees and other UW workers urgently need comprehensive, meaningful solutions. Our union is ready to partner with the UW to make that happen.