Rent Increases for UCI Housing Stirring Threat of Protest March
Saying they’re unhappy with recent rent increases for on-campus housing for married and older students at UC Irvine, some of the residents vowed Monday to march in protest this week around the university’s administration building.
The protesters are part of Verano Renters Assn., a group of about 45 of the 1,200 students and their 800 children and spouses who live in the university-owned Verano Place campus housing.
Association representatives predicted that more than 100 student residents will take part in Friday’s protest, which is the deadline for Verano Place residents to pay their monthly rent.
“We’re trying to freeze rent rates to the 1986 level and also to get the university to allow us to have input into the decisions affecting the residents of Verano Place,” said Judy Olson, 27, a graduate student who is working towards a Ph.D in English.
Rents Go Up 4.2%
This month, rent will go up 4.2%, and new rents for two-bedroom apartments or two-bedroom town houses now range from $425 to $591.
Two-bedroom apartments off campus rent from $750 to $1,100, according to Dawn Bouzeos, corporate communications manager of the Irvine Company, the largest apartment owner in Irvine.
While campus apartments are cheaper than those off campus, angry student-residents of Verano Place said campus rentals could be even lower if the administration would cut costs.
Chancellor Jack Peltason said Monday that the university never likes to raise rents, but must do so to meet fixed expenses: “We’re not trying to make a profit. We try to make the rents as low as possible. But the university gets no appropriated funds from the state for this housing, and it has to be self-supporting.”
Peltason noted that the 864 apartment or town house units in Verano Place were funded either by federal loans or revenue bonds during the past 20 years. Both must be repaid with rents, he said, and rental fees must also cover maintenance and services provided to residents.
It is those services that protesters believe can be cut back.
‘A Lot of Staff’
“The (UCI) Community Development Program for Verano Place is wasteful, and we think it should be abolished,” Olson said. “We think $400,000 could be saved by abolishing that program, and that money could be used to reduce rents.”
Olson said the program includes holding dances and gatherings for families. “The activities themselves don’t cost that much, but the university has a lot of staff working in this area. . . . That’s where the money could be saved.”
Alex Zukas, an officer in the protesting association, said he believes that the community development program isn’t needed. “They treat us like we’re kids living in dorms,” said Zukas, 38, a graduate student working towards a Ph.D in history.
Besides seeking an end to the services program, the Verano Renters’ Assn. would like the university to establish a “residents’ council” to allow them “substantive input,” Olson said. “The administration will listen to us, but the administrators don’t seem to be using any of our suggestions. We have no real power. We’d like to have veto power on the kinds of decisions they make (about Verano Place).”
Olson’s husband, Julio Kidder, 28, a graduate student working for a Ph.D in comparative literature, said residents believe cheaper, more efficient ways can be found to provide better services at Verano Place.
“We certainly want child care for residents here, but child care that’s now provided isn’t adequate--there’s a big waiting list,” he said.
James Craig, director of housing at UCI, said Monday that he and other campus officials are doing their best to follow suggestions from the protesting residents of Verano Place.
“We’re listening to them,” he said. “In response to their complaints about the community development, we cut the budget this year about $20,000.”
But Craig said it would not be wise or feasible to abolish the entire program: “The program is reasonable, and I believe it’s important to have this program on campus.”
‘No Lack of Concern’
Both Peltason and Craig, in separate interviews, said they sympathize with the graduate students facing higher rents in Verano Place. “There’s no lack of concern, because we know how these graduate students have to struggle to get through,” Peltason said.
But protesters of the Verano Renters’ Assn. responded that university officials mainly talk and don’t do much to keep the student rents low.
“Our point is that if the university is committed to providing low-cost housing, if it’s admitting that the only way the students can go to the university is if they have an affordable place to live near the university, then the university needs to make the low-cost housing genuinely low-cost and affordable,” Olson said.
“And Verano is becoming, quickly, unaffordable to students.”