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Campus workers demand more affordable housing, benefits

Therese Santiago/The Stanford Daily

As housing costs continue to skyrocket in the Bay Area, where places such as East Palo Alto are expected to reach a median housing price of $1 million in the coming year, Stanford workers feel particularly affected.

According to Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2007, a local union that represents many Stanford workers, 66 percent of service workers on campus say their rent is not affordable. In their upcoming contract negotiations with Stanford University, workers are demanding more affordable housing units.

“Right now there is a really big lack of affordable housing in the area, which just pushes service workers, who also aren’t paid enough, to afford the housing in the area farther and farther, [forcing] them to spend more time commuting to work every day,” said Jianna So ’21, co-founder of the Workers’ Rights Coalition and 20th Undergraduate Senate Deputy Chair.

The University affirms that it has made many efforts to create more affordable housing, Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in an email to The Daily.

“There are currently close to 1,000 rental units available to faculty and staff, of which over 180 are below market rate units,” he added. “In the fall, we received approval from the City of Menlo Park to proceed with Middle Plaza, a new complex that will add 215 apartment units with an expected priority for Stanford faculty and staff.”

In 2018, Stanford applied for a new General Use Permit (GUP), which would authorize construction of new academic buildings and housing facilities through 2035. In it, Stanford proposed providing $56 million for affordable housing projects as well as 3,150 new housing units, of which up to 550 could be occupied by faculty or staff.

So acknowledged the new housing, but said that it does not prioritize staff.

“Right now Stanford does have below market rate housing that it provides for certain people in its community based on a lottery system,” she said. “But right now, service workers are at the bottom of that lottery.”

Stanford recently filed a lawsuit against Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors alleging the County’s Inclusionary Housing ordinance, which requires that the University have 16 percent of its newly built housing designated as affordable housing, unfairly targets Stanford. On Wednesday, the County filed a motion to dismiss the suit.

At the moment, So says Stanford is prioritizing creating housing for graduate students. She hopes that similar efforts will be made for campus staff.

“[Housing for graduate students] is a really big need and something that we don’t want to impede on,” she said. “But an option like that could also be implemented towards giving service workers more affordable housing as well.”

Along with affordable housing, workers are hoping for better transportation benefits. According to SEIU, some service workers commute up to 6.75 hours a day.

“Service workers and other workers on campus get things like Caltrain passes,” So said, “but when you live so far in order to get affordable housing, places like Sacramento or in the North East Bay Area, those transportation benefits aren’t really helpful.”

Workers are also asking for access to more affordable health care options. SEIU reports that 73 percent of bargaining unit workers say their healthcare premiums are anywhere from “somewhat” to “very” burdensome.

“If you look at the UC [(University of California)] schools that are in the Bay Area [and] what they’re offering the workers, you can get a really clear idea [through] that kind of apples to apples comparison of what folks are getting,” said Stewart Hyland, SEIU Worksite Organizer. “So we’re finding out that we’re not beating [UC Berkeley] in a lot of the health care benefits that their workers receive compared to what our workers receive, as well as out-of-pocket costs.”

Workers have not yet called for specific ways Stanford could extract the money to raise wages, create affordable housing and provide better transportation and healthcare benefits. Despite Provost Persis Drell’s recent announcement that Stanford has had a smaller endowment this year, workers are confident that their goals are achievable.

“Stanford is not just a university — it’s a diversified corporate entity, and our workers get that,” Hyland said. “It’s running in a way that it can go into perpetuity, but that also means that there’s not scarcity that they may claim.”

Both So and Hyland said Stanford is partly at fault for housing costs in the area. By attracting people to the area (and specifically the tech industry), they said, Stanford’s existence is driving up market prices. As a result, they added, the University has greater responsibility for providing staff with affordable housing.

As Stanford enters contract negotiations this month, Miranda wrote that the University is committed to “a new agreement with SEIU Local 2007” through “a collaborative, collegial and respectful bargaining process.”

So hopes that Stanford will acknowledge workers’ roles in the community, and that the new contracts will provide workers with better living situations.

“Service workers are an important part of the Stanford community,” she said. “They’re the ones cleaning our dishes, cooking our food, cleaning our dorms, and they are really the reason behind why so much of Stanford runs every day so successfully.”

This article has been corrected to reflect that Stanford’s lawsuit against Santa Clara County was not dismissed, but rather that the County filed a motion to dismiss it. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Clara Kieschnick at ckiesch ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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