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Home » Clarion » 2023 » May 2023 » Anger at GC housing rent hike

Anger at GC housing rent hike

Akin to a pay cut, members say By ARI PAUL

Paul Oder, a doctoral student and a resident at the Graduate Center’s apartment building in Upper Manhattan, is fighting a rent increase. (Credit: Dave Sanders)

The Graduate Center (GC) brags on its website that “graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and members of the faculty” can take advantage of its residential building in East Harlem. Sharing a plaza with the Hunter College School of Social Work, the GC apartment building “offers bright, modern, airy, and affordable housing, as well as providing an easy commute to the Graduate Center.”

But the rent is going up. Again.

Zoe Hu, PSC chapter chair at the GC, blasted the 3.75% rent hike, set to go into effect this August. She urged the university to revoke the plan at the CUNY Board of Trustees hearing.

INADEQUATE SERVICES

“Months after CUNY closed down Brookdale, the only low-income housing for Hunter students, it has begun raising the rent of Graduate Center housing. This is the third time in five years that rents have been raised on those in the building,” she said. “Moreover, building management has had to provide residents with space heaters because central heating does not work, though inhabitants continue to pay utility bills, which are exorbitant because the building is commercially zoned. They also continue to pay for nonfunctioning building Wi-Fi, even as most apartments are forced to purchase personal setups.”

Hu saw this as economic warfare on GC workers.

“That CUNY is both employer and landlord for these students means that this rent measure is essentially a wage cut,” she said. “Because the stipend and teaching wages represent separate portions of the overall graduate student package, CUNY can give with one hand and take with the other. I fear we may be in a one-step-forward, two-steps-backward situation, unless CUNY looks away from the bottom line and takes seriously the well-being of graduate students.”

PUSHING BACK

Simon Kostelanetz, a PhD student in French who lives in the building, said that the rent hike announcement has forced residents to consider how they can organize to stop it

“It was kind of expected, but this time a lot of the tenants were like, ‘We cannot do this again. We can’t let it slide. We can’t let them do this every single year,’” he said.

Giacomo Bianchino, a PhD candidate in comparative literature at the GC, added that many residents had not re-signed the lease. GC members are planning next steps on how to fight back against the hikes, he said.

“The 3.75% rent increase goes into effect in August, as part of the new ‘license’ agreement between tenants and the university. This follows three similar hikes in the last five years: two at 3% and one at 3.25%,” he said. “This affects international students disproportionately, who comprise a large share of the 120 people that use the building. It’s also a staff issue, with recent hires often living at the building while they search for more stable housing.

MAINTENANCE ISSUES

He added, “The residents think the rent hike is unfair, given the stagnancy of their stipend, a soaring inflation rate and some major maintenance issues of the building that were carelessly dealt with by the [building] administration last year. Last winter, the heating went out for a month and administration provided scanty and dangerous replacement [heaters], or advised people to buy space heaters. Tenants still received heating bills for this period.”

Kostelanetz told Clarion that GC officials told residents that the rental increases were due to financial strains caused by the pandemic.

“We understand that the pandemic has put financial strain on CUNY,” Kostelanetz said. “But it also put financial stress on CUNY students. We shouldn’t have to bear the burden of CUNY’s financial problems.”

GC housing residents met with GC officials in March to discuss their concerns. The administration is still sticking to its rent increase. Paul Oder, a doctoral student in the criminal justice program, said that he hoped to rally the GC community, not just the building residents, to their cause.

“Our stipend has been stagnant for the last couple of years,” he said. “That is an issue not just for GC housing residents, but all GC students.


Published: April 26, 2023

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