During this summer’s contract negotiations between Stanford University and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2007, Stanford’s service workers union, SEIU explicitly asked Stanford to address its members lack of access to affordable housing during an undeniable crisis. With rising costs of living in the Bay Area, more than 165,000 low-income households do not have access to an affordable home, and many of these families can end up giving up to 70% of their income to rent. In San Mateo County, a renter needs to earn $67.31 an hour just to be able to afford the average asking rent. Stanford service workers are hit hard by these changes — many of them commute to campus from as far as Stockton or Sacramento just to make do.
Yet Stanford has done next to nothing to address this crisis. The nearby housing options the university advertises to workers, Stanford West and Colonnade Apartments, comprise 788 units, of which only 100 are below market rate. Among these units, there are almost always no vacancies, and there’s currently a waitlist of more than 1,000 people hoping for a spot. Even if an affordable unit were to open up, it would be basically impossible for a Stanford service worker to take advantage of the vacancy, since vacancies are filled by a lottery system in which SEIU members receive low priority. Thus, it’s unsurprising that Stanford currently provides subsidized housing to only around 12 of the 1,270 service workers represented by SEIU.
What was SEIU asking for in the contract with respect to workers’ housing? Nothing drastic — the union proposed prioritizing 10% of all newly vacant and/or constructed Stanford housing for its members. For a university with a $26.5 billion endowment which spends about $300 million yearly on land, real estate, and commercial developments, surely prioritizing workers for 10% of newly vacant or constructed housing would be a reasonable compromise? Not for Stanford — they denied the union’s proposal without providing any alternatives, and the final contract between Stanford and the union has zero provisions having to do with workers’ housing.
Having denied workers housing in their contract, Stanford wants to do it again all the way to 2035 with its proposed General Use Permit, its development plan for the next 15 or so years. Per its draft 2018 General Use Permit, Stanford has proposed building 550 housing units for faculty and staff, 900 new beds for graduate students, and 0 units for postdocs, staff, and other workers. Stanford projects that in the next 17 years (as of 2018), it will bring in 789 new faculty, 2,438 new staff workers, and 2,101 new workers to campus— 5,328 new employees in total. In other words, the University plans to build 0.103 units of housing for every new employee it hires, with 0 units going to service workers. Yet Stanford has the nerve to advertise its proposed General Use Permit as “an offer of $4.7 billion in community benefits focused on addressing critical housing and transportation challenges facing the region.”
Face it, Stanford: the “community” in your “community benefits” is an exclusive, racist, classist vision of community. You’re happy to spend $4.7 billion dollars to provide housing to your prestigious faculty while denying it to the service workers who enable the very research and study which fuels your endowment. The “critical housing and transportation challenges” you’re addressing are those faced by a tiny section of the Bay Area — coincidentally, the one section of the Bay Area which will increase your prestige as a tier-one academic institution while dining hall workers face chronic understaffing, custodial workers report deteriorating physical health, union demands for a living wage are categorically denied and subcontracting runs rampant to the detriment of job security and collective bargaining.
But Stanford’s exclusive vision of community isn’t going uncontested. The Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035, or SCoPE 2035, a group of committed student activists, has spent the past several years advocating for more equitable development. As the General Use Permit approval process draws to a close, SCoPE 2035 is pushing for a plan that would provide 2,172 new housing units to faculty, staff, and workers — far more than the 550 that Stanford originally intended to build. More importantly, 933 of these new units must be affordable.
Stanford has been fighting furiously against this plan, attempting to convince the Santa Clara County Supervisors to backslide on how much housing Stanford needs to build. SCoPE 2035 is working to hold Stanford accountable to the gentrifying impact its development will have on surrounding communities, as well as to the needs of its workers. On Oct. 22, the FINAL Palo Alto hearing around Stanford’s General Use Permit will occur, and SCOPE 2035 is planning to roll out with students and workers to hold the university accountable. The hearing is set to start at 4 p.m. at Palo Alto City Hall, and more information can be found on SCOPE 2035’s Facebook event.
Stanford is not only complicit in the Bay Area housing crisis, but it has actively denied affordable housing to the service workers most impacted by the crisis, leaving no provisions in its five-year contract with SEIU for workers’ housing. Stanford wants to do it again with its General Use Permit, which purports to be a community investment, but is really just a blanket denial of affordable housing to those who need it most. The university has proven through its actions that its vision of community is one built on effacing the contributions of the very workers who make life here possible, continuing a genealogy of oppressive labor practices that goes all the way back to its founding father’s abuse of Chinese migrant laborers for his railroads. But students and allies can rally behind an alternative vision of community that centers the dignity and struggles of service workers, on Oct. 22, 4 p.m., at Palo Alto City Hall.
Contact Ethan Chua at ezlc327 ‘at’ stanford.edu. Thanks to Amulya Yerrapotu from SCoPE 2035 for their help with this article.