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Faculty housing project prioritization points to larger affordability concerns

By Eve Gross-Sable

March 16, 2020 11:03 p.m.

A planned faculty housing building on Hilgard Avenue will continue to prioritize tenure-track faculty over adjunct professors or lecturers, according to UCLA media relations.

Ladder-rank or tenure-track faculty are prioritized for faculty housing over appointees in the clinical professor series, adjunct professor series and lecturers at UCLA. This means faculty with lower ranks, who are generally paid less, are given less priority on a waitlist that can reach up to 200 spots for housing intended to be affordable.

“It’s very difficult for people who are at the lower end of the salary scale to afford to live anywhere close to UCLA,” said Toby Higbie, chair of the labor studies department. “And I think people have a tough time getting (into faculty housing). There’s not enough.”

The Hilgard Faculty Housing project, which would add up to 100 units to UCLA’s existing 189 units of faculty housing around Westwood, aims to offer rent at least 30% below the market rate, according to UCLA media relations. Such housing is more affordable than the average rent in Westwood, an area with the fourth-highest rent in the nation, according to a 2019 study.

Caroline Luce, associate director of the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, said she spends more than 30% of her income on housing. She said she knows others that spend up to half of their incomes.

Those numbers, said Luce, who is also a member of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers organizing committee, are even more precarious when the average nontenured faculty member is making less than $20,000 a year.

“We do have a cost of living adjustment in our contract, but it is certainly out of pace with the price of housing in Los Angeles,” Luce said. “The housing crisis and skyrocketing rents are rippling down and making it harder and harder and harder every year for nontenured faculty to survive, frankly, and to live in this very expensive city.”

The housing project is intended to improve faculty recruitment and retention rates. A majority of respondents in a 2018 survey of UCLA faculty said housing costs and proximity to campus were either “very important” or “important” factors in their choice to accept or continue employment at UCLA.

Luce said she has friends who work at UCLA who are planning to begin looking for new jobs because they are struggling to raise their families in Westwood.

Higbie was initially placed on the waiting list when he first applied for faculty housing after accepting a position at the university in 2007, and he secured a spot before he moved to California. A lot of faculty housing is not necessarily suited for families, who often need below-market-rate housing the most, Higbie said.

“We decided at that time we had little kids, and it was a little hard to live in Westwood with two little kids, hauling them down to the park and now that kind of stuff,” Higbie said. “So we moved down to a rental house in Rancho Park so we could have a backyard.”

Tenured and tenure-track faculty are generally paid more than lecturers, but affording a house in Los Angeles on a single salary is difficult no matter what job a faculty member has, Higbie said.

The ability for faculty to live close to campus is not only beneficial for faculty, but also for students, Higbie said.

“(Faculty) get to talk to (students) outside of the classroom,” Higbie said. “And then you build relationships, and that’s really what you want in a great university.”

Luce said she thinks efforts to construct more faculty housing are not enough on their own to address the difficulties that faculty face.

“On some level, it does come down to how much money is in people’s pockets,” Luce said.

The issue of underpayment is present across the board, including graduate students and members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, an employee union representing over 25,000 service and patient care employees, Luce said.

“To me, this sounds like a really ripe opportunity for solidarity and for all of us to really work together to encourage the UC to compensate us (for our work),” Luce said.

Luce acknowledged that the compensation they are asking for must come from somewhere and requires pressure from a greater collection of people.

“If we want to educate young people in this state to be the leaders and good citizens of tomorrow, we need to value public education, we need to value the teachers and graduate students and food service workers who create the campuses where that education is being given,” Luce said.

Construction on the Hilgard Faculty Housing project is expected to commence in the summer.

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