Organization strategy

Vanderbilt Graduate Workers United, Organization of Black Graduate and Professional Students Host Affordable Housing Rally – The Vanderbilt Hustler

Vanderbilt Graduate Workers United and the Black Graduate and Professional Student Organization held the ‘Rally for Affordable Housing’ outside The Broadview Rental Center in Vanderbilt on October 26, during its grand opening. The Broadview is a graduate student and professional residential communityset to open this coming fall.

Graduate students led by Kelly Cunningham, co-chair of VGWU and fourth-year graduate student, stood at the corner of 20th Avenue and Broadway with signs that read “Grad student housing is not for graduate students,” ⅔ our income for

According to Cunningham, prices for new apartments range from $1,377 to $1,924 per month. According to Cunningham, average stipend rates are not published by the university, but she estimates them at around $30,000 based on her experience talking to other graduate students. Stipends vary depending on the program and department in which the student is studying.

“[Vanderbilt] promises to build it for at least three years now. A few weeks ago they announced graduate student housing rates, and we were amazed because it’s well over 50% of most graduate student stipends,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the main purpose of the protest was to raise awareness of the profits that will be made by Vanderbilt through The Broadview. VGWU has already organized around the affordability of other essential services, including protesting and circulating a petition for more vision and dental insurance coverage in September.

“We’ve certainly been aware of how rising rents in Nashville have affected graduate students in recent years,” Cunningham said. “Most of our efforts so far have been on a smaller scale.”

Cunningham added that this rally was the first time they had specifically addressed housing affordability.

In a statement to WKRN, the university said new graduate accommodation rates at The Broadview were around 18% lower than market rates for similar apartments in the area. The Broadview at Vanderbilt is owned by Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions and Axium Infrastructure. The University’s statement indicates that their partnership with BBCS/Axium will lead to ever lower fares for the Broadview at Vanderbilt, compared to other fares in the market. The statement cited campus accessibility and popular amenities as goals for this project.

“This project will help build cross-disciplinary connections among these students and support the university’s strategic priorities, including its commitment to sustainability, diversity and accessibility. It also enhances Vanderbilt’s ability to recruit top students to our growing city,” the statement read.

In an updated statement to The Hustler, Vanderbilt said The Broadview is not owned and operated by a university. Vanderbilt provided the land, but the building itself is managed by BBCS/Axium, which means Vanderbilt does not control rental rates.

“The Broadview is a lower-cost housing option with popular amenities and easy access to campus. Although not owned and operated by the university, our intention, through a public-private partnership, is to support additional choice for Vanderbilt graduate and professional students as they seek housing. in the city,” the updated statement read.

The statement further states that BBCS/Axium’s partnership with Vanderbilt requires them to maintain rental rates below comparable homes at market value.

Cunningham said housing affordability was a big factor when deciding where to go for college, but since she started her program at Vanderbilt, housing prices in Nashville have gone up. skyrockets from an average of $269,000 in January 2018 to $448,645 this month.

“We just hope Vanderbilt recognizes that they have to pay us more if they claim these are below market rates, which they are not. They are if you use the total rent, but if you use the square foot, it’s one of the most expensive places in Midtown,” Cunningham said. “If that’s what it costs to live here, then they have to pay graduate students enough to live here. Otherwise, they will not be able to recruit good graduate students. The salary I make now is not a living wage in Nashville with all these price hikes.

Graduate student protester holding up a sign at the corner of 20th and Broadway, pictured October 26, 2022.
Graduate student protester holding a sign at the corner of 20th and Broadway, photographed October 26, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Narenkumar Thirmiya) (Narenkumar Thirmiya)

Miguel Moravec, president of the Graduate Student Council and a third-year student, attended the rally. He said this new accommodation is an important option for graduate students, especially international students.

“Apartments have the potential to make housing more accessible to international students, who often struggle to work with Nashville landlords who need domestic banking information,” Moravec said.

He added that the cost of this accommodation makes it inaccessible to doctoral students, as the cheapest apartment costs more than half of most students’ allowances. This does not meet the Criteria for affordable housing as set out by the Federal Housing and Urban Development Agency, which states that housing is considered affordable if the resident pays no more than 30% of gross income. According to the Vanderbilt Graduate School website, with variation from program to program, Ph.D. students can expect to receive teaching/research assistantships that pay all or part of the tuition, medical insurance, and supplemental income allowance ranging from $14,000 to $30,000 per year for five years.

“This facility will allow graduate students and their families to live in the heart of Nashville during the city’s period of rapid economic growth, which supports our ongoing mission to be a diverse and inclusive learning environment in which talented people from all financial backgrounds can thrive,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said in a July 16, 2021 press release.

Some other universities also offer on-campus housing options for graduate students. duke university offers a limited number of graduate student accommodations, prioritizing students based on visa status. Duke’s website states that it is the student’s responsibility to acquire accommodation. July 20, 2021, Emory University announcement that the university would build housing for 1,000 graduate students by 2027. Washington University in St. Louis offers only off-campus housing options for graduate students. The aforementioned universities do not specify the percentage of graduate student stipends intended for housing costs.

According to Moravec, the university is distancing itself from the new housing estate.

“In response to the public seeing how expensive the units are relative to our allocations, Vanderbilt is now backtracking and no longer claiming the units are low cost,” Moravec said. “In fact, they are stepping back even further and now denying responsibility for the operation of the facility, even though they took credit for being a cooperator as recently as last week.”

OBGAPS Vice President Ebony Hargrove-Wiley said she supports VGWU’s efforts because the rental prices on offer are not affordable for students from all walks of life.

“If 50% of my allowance is allocated to rent, I would struggle to pay other bills like my car bills and other basic necessities like food. Affordable housing can ensure my financial well-being and my present and future freedom,” Hargrove-Wiley said.

Cunningham said she hopes this rally has raised awareness of the financial hardships facing graduate students and will increase support for an upcoming rally to be hosted by VGWU on Nov. 1 to promote higher salaries for graduate students.

The Broadview at Vanderbilt did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment.