MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXV No. 1
September / October 2012
I. Graduate Student Housing Difficulties
II. Response to MIT 2030 Concerns
III. edX Front and Center
IV. 25th Anniversary of the FNL
edX: Hostile Takeover or Helping Hand?
Comings and Goings
Concerns Over Affordability
of On-Campus Housing
New Strategic Directions for DUE
From Imagination to Impact: Empowering Graduate Students to Create the Future
Survey Says: Faculty Happy But Stressed
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Alumni Association Seeks Traveling Faculty
Nominate a Colleague for the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program
Request for Preliminary Proposals for Innovative Curricular Projects
Thanks and some reflections
From the 2008 and 2012 Faculty Survey
Printable Version

Concerns Over Affordability of On-Campus Housing

Heather Murdoch, Andrea Dubin, Amy Bilton, Pierre-Olivier Lepage,
Anders and Anna Haggman
, Alan Richardson

Rent is the largest expense of graduate students, consuming over half of pretax income. Each year, the rising cost of rent is the largest factor in the graduate student stipend adjustment calculated and recommended by the Graduate Student Council (GSC) to the senior administration. For the past five years, the rates for on-campus rents have been capped at a maximum 3.5% yearly increase. This agreement between the GSC and the Dean of Student Life expires this year, bringing the future of affordable on-campus housing into question. Higher rents will affect MIT’s competitiveness as a research institution by pushing current students further away from their work on campus, deterring potential students, and straining research budgets as stipends adjust to escalating living expenses.

The problems are twofold. First, Cambridge off-campus housing will continue to grow scarcer and less affordable as area development continues. This is a long-term crisis that requires measured attention. Second, and what we as current and past leaders in the on-campus residences wish to bring to your attention, is the untenable rising cost of on-campus housing. For students already at MIT, high on-campus rents cause them to seek lower-cost options elsewhere.

According to the recent Graduate Student Survey, approximately 60% of off-campus students cited on-campus housing cost as a major factor contributing to their decision to move. Given the escalating housing prices in Cambridge, students are often forced far from campus to find affordable options.

Being located far from campus limits the students’ access to the lab, especially for those students who may need to work after hours. For those students whose research is not laboratory group based, living far from the campus community may contribute to further isolation. Additionally, transportation to areas far from campus is often inadequate, making it difficult and more time consuming for students living further away to commute to their research environments. Some students are also forced to live in areas with higher crime rates as the cost of off-campus housing increases.

High on-campus rents present a barrier to attracting talented students and to maintaining a satisfactory quality of life once students are here. Boston has the third most expensive rental market in the country. Many graduate students come from areas with a different rental environment and paying more than $1100 a month (the current rate per person for a two-bedroom apartment in Ashdown House, Edgerton, or Sidney-Pacific) for an on-campus housing spot is difficult to justify. Additionally, finding off-campus housing is a challenging prospect, especially for the international students who comprise approximately 37% of the graduate student population. Affordable on-campus housing is an appealing option that helps ease the transition into life at MIT.

On-campus housing also impacts student life on campus. Graduate dorms are one of the locations where students are able to build community in a non-academic setting. They are the center of student life for many graduate students, and provide resources for student wellness.

Graduate dorms also provide an opportunity for students to gain leadership experience within a graduate community. These experiences should be open to all students regardless of their savings or income. Increasing rents may rob students of these experiences by driving them off campus.

As graduate students who have benefited from the on-campus housing experience, we want to hold MIT Housing to the same standards to which our advisors hold us. We would like to understand the nature of rent increases by looking at the calculation and reviewing the contributing costs. Off-campus renters are able to track their own utilities usage, and are informed by their landlord of increases in rent due to market value; as on-campus residents, we have simply received rising rental charges. A survey of local utility rates shows that electricity rates have fallen in the past four years, with over a 20% drop in mid-2009. Water and sewer rates have remained constant for the past three years and MIT’s voluntary payments in lieu of property taxes to the city of Cambridge (as buildings classified as academic, which includes residences, are not subject to tax) has decreased in the last five years. Market value should absolutely not be a factor, as MIT Housing should not be making a profit on its students’ research-funded stipends. On-campus rent increases prior to the 3.5% agreement have been as high as 6.5% in the past 10 years; undergraduate rent increases have been as high as 8% per year. It is unclear what these variable and unpredictable increases stem from, but it is clear that future rent increases will affect students and the Institute alike. We therefore ask that students and faculty be informed as to the sources of rising on-campus rent and involved in the future assessment of housing increases.

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