Tufts’ new tiered-housing policy will charge higher rates for certain dorms, which some students fear will segregate the campus by class.
Students are making sure their voices are heard on Tufts University’s campus.
On Nov. 29, approximately 200 Tufts students, as well as Medford and Somerville residents and Somerville officials, marched to protest Tufts’ new tiered housing policy and call on the university to build a new dormitory.
“This is much bigger than tiered housing,” said Amira Al-Subaey, a student representing Tufts Student Action, a student organization. “It’s about housing justice for students and for community members in Medford and Somerville.”
Under the tiered housing policy, which will go into effect in fall 2019, the university will charge different rates for on-campus housing based on the quality of the dorms and amenities. In addition to the base cost increasing from $7,934 to $8,220, the cost of some dorms will rise to $10,219, nearly a 30 percent increase from the current housing prices.
Members of the student organizations Tufts Student Action and Tufts Housing League, who organized the protest, say the new policies will segregate housing by income: students who can afford to will opt for the nicer dorms, and low- and middle-income students will live in older dorms. The groups also predict that because the changes could force more students off-campus, they will exacerbate housing woes in Somerville and Medford, as landlords increasingly cater rent prices to the growing student market.
“Our demands are to end the tiered housing proposal, build a new dorm and to include students and community members in decision making positions, so a proposal like this never happens again,” Al-Subaey said. “We’ve had countless meetings with administrators to talk about the tiered housing proposal, and they’ve continued to refuse to actively solve this issue or even listen to student concerns, so that’s why we’re escalating to having a day of action.”
Community members and city leaders in Somerville showed up to share their support. No local elected officials from Medford attended the event, though representatives of the progressive group Our Revolution Medford were present.
Jessica Farrell, an organizer with Our Revolution Medford, said she attended as a neighbor of Tufts and to show her opposition to the tiered housing policy.
“I recognize that the student organizers and long-term residents align in our goal to demand that Tufts be a good neighbor and community member in Medford, in this case by building fully affordable dense on-campus housing,” Farrell said. “The tiered housing system is a creative way to further price gouge students and puts them in the uncomfortable and undesirable position of gentrifying the neighborhood in order to get the education they deserve and are paying for.”
Somerville Board of Aldermen President Katjana Ballantyne spoke at the protest about what she described as a lack of student housing on and off campus. Ballantyne added that she would like Tufts to slow its expansion into Medford and Somerville neighborhoods.
“Tufts has not listened and they have not communicated their campus planning intentions,” she said. “So if they are not going to engage us, we organize!”
Somerville Ward 1 Alderman Matt McLaughlin closed out the speaking portion of the protest on a hopeful note, calling for an end to the housing crisis affecting Medford, Somerville and the Boston area. Though he criticized Tufts’ new policy, McLaughlin emphasized that he is open to working with Tufts to develop solutions.
In particular, he noted that Tufts is looking at knocking down an old fraternity house and using the lot to build more housing.
“I think that’s a non-zero-sum, win-win-win for everybody,” McLaughlin said. “You get your housing, we get more units for ourselves, and we smash the patriarchy while we’re at it.”
Student organizer Shane Woolley was proud of the impact that students made during the protest.
“We came out and we showed the administration at Tufts that we are all part of the same community in the end,” Woolley said. “We are all going to make sure we work together to create an equitable and just community.”
Miranda Willson contributed to this report.