In late February, over 130 activists and tenants gathered in Hartford to testify before the Connecticut House of Representatives Housing Committee in support of HB 6588, according to The Daily Campus. “An Act Concerning Rent Stabilization” seeks to prohibit annual rent increases exceeding 4% plus inflation, answering growing calls for housing justice in a state where the cost of rent has jumped 20% since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and evictions remain high — exceeding 21,000 filings in 2022 — after the peeling away of eviction protections for tenants.
Despite the dedicated organizing efforts of community members to rally against rent hikes and provide several hours of testimony about its impact on themselves and their families, the Housing Committee shelved the legislation by failing to put it to a vote before their last meeting of the legislative session. Not only do the demands of the Cap the Rent coalition — who came to the General Assembly to build pressure for a 2.5% cap on rent increases, caps on fees and a winter eviction moratorium — remain unmet, but landlords may continue to uproot tenants’ lives through evictions or by pricing them out of their homes.
This issue has intense implications on the present and future of students at the University of Connecticut. The recent political climate at UConn has called attention to how decisions made in Hartford reverberate throughout the community at each of the university’s campuses, and housing justice is no exception. The cost of living at and around UConn is of critical importance to students and other community members, whether they rent off-campus units or pay exorbitant housing fees. Furthermore, students need to consider how their role in the housing market inadvertently contributes to gentrification on one hand, but creates reason for solidarity between students and working class residents against rent hikes on the other.
The Daily Campus Editorial Board holds that food and housing insecurity are anathema to receiving a quality education, and that UConn participates in many of the systemic practices that price low-income people out of access to abundant food and affordable housing, chiefly taking the form of prohibitive costs. Considering UConn dormitories lack much of the space and functionality of even a small apartment, it is concerning that the most affordable of on-campus units, when converted into monthly rates, cost roughly $990 per month over the course of a 15-week semester. When factoring in the approximate monthly cost of the cheapest residential dining plan, the total cost of living on campus comes out to at least $1,770 per month.
This may cause students to try their hand at searching for housing in the surrounding community; however, they may be hard-pressed to find rates below $1,000 per month using UConn’s off-campus housing website or any other service. Many commuter students who attend the Storrs or regional campuses must necessarily reckon with high housing costs in order to attend in the first place, which illustrates how housing may be the decisive factor determining whether someone attends UConn and participates in our community or not. It also conceals wealth, and thus racial, inequality within the terms of attending this university.
The final major manifestation of housing injustice at UConn does not exclusively affect students; in fact, UConn’s influence in Storrs as well as urban areas like Hartford and Stamford serves to negatively impact the bulk of working community members around its campuses. This is the issue of college area gentrification, whereby the arbitrage of students — particularly those who can comfortably bear the costs of rent — into the housing market raises the amount that landlords charge for rent and relatively reduces the stock of available affordable housing. A 2017 report by The New York Times revealed that the median household income of UConn students is around $119,000, ranking 11th among “highly selective public universities.” Furthermore, 55% of UConn students hail from above the 80th percentile of household income and 15% are above the 95th. This data signals that UConn students are more than capable of contributing to rising housing costs around campuses, a problem which, in harming working class students and community members, creates common cause for students and their neighbors to fight rent hikes and no-cause evictions.
Housing justice includes UConn students; to an extent, they also have a responsibility to ensure that the students and workers who share this community have access to affordable housing as well. In 2021, the university board of trustees purchased a plot of land in the Town of Mansfield originally meant for developing affordable housing units, sparking a conflict over the land that lasted through the summer until UConn acquiesced to local grievances. This demonstrates not only UConn’s antagonistic relationship with affordable housing, but the ability of the community to resist and reverse certain major encroachments on the cost of living. Students and community members should be empowered to unite over the shared issue of housing justice, which follows most Americans throughout their lifetime.