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Op-ed: Opposition to The Agora housing project is misguided, fails to consider benefits

By Ernesto Arciniega

Feb. 11, 2019 10:50 p.m.

“This will be a giant student party zoo!”

That’s one of several sentences written in bold on a site denouncing an incoming Westwood housing project.

It’s an alarming, awful, sad thing, to feel under attack just because of who you are, your occupation or where you go to school. But that’s exactly what us UCLA students are feeling right now by the community at large. As a first-generation graduate student, I can’t conceive that anyone would tolerate such derogatory language directed at students.

You may have seen the recent coverage in the Daily Bruin about The Agora, a self-described health- and wellness-oriented student housing project that promises to provide 462 beds of student housing on Hilgard Avenue. According to the project’s website, more than 50 of those beds will rent for less than $500 per month and the rest will cost between $1,000 to $1,200 per month.

Westwood hasn’t had a new private student housing project in decades. The tremendous demand for housing and the lack of supply is one of the main reasons why rents are so high. As the Los Angeles Times reported last year, Westwood has the highest rents of any community in all of California.

Indeed, it’s very promising if The Agora does what it says it’ll do.

Of course, The Agora is not the solution to all of Westwood’s housing problems. But I and a majority of the Graduate Students Association representatives at forum believe it may be a good first step. It will not absolutely solve the crisis of student homelessness, but it could help. Adding 462 beds in Westwood, including at least 50 that promise to rent for less than $500 per month, is a commitment that not even our university is making right now.

But some Westwood community members don’t see these benefits. Westwood neighbors blithe to the needs of students have argued The Agora is a “giant party zoo” and that community leaders are willing to “say anything” to approve the project. This callous slander of students is beyond disrespectful: It interiorizes the image of them as party animals from a zoo, not as rightful and eligible members of Westwood.

I certainly respect the right of current residents to be apprehensive about construction in Westwood Village. But neither I nor the majority of the representatives at the GSA forum share this position.

If The Agora project fulfills its promise of affordable student housing, it will embody what Westwood Forward campaigned for – precisely why the coalition’s student leadership committee and graduate student leaders unanimously endorsed the project two weeks ago. That’s also why the GSA endorsed The Agora last week.

It’s disappointing that homeowners would oppose affordable student housing in Westwood, but it’s their right to do so. Regardless of their position, they should never play to derogatory stereotypes.

Westwood should be an inclusive community, for everyone. And yes, that includes students.

Arciniega is the founder and president of the UCLA Hispanic Latinx Graduate Students Association. He is also the GSA director of diversity, inclusion and community engagement.

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