Izzy Pipa

Students: We deserve better housing

October 27, 2022

One year ago, the Burlington Police Department announced a mass eviction of the more than 40 residents of the Sears Lane houseless encampment, a tent city occupying public land in Burlington’s South End.

One year ago, a crowd of nearly 100 housing activists converged on the encampment and, through the power of their physical presence, prevented the city government from removing the camp. 

For three months, a loose coalition of eviction defenders from around the city and state made a habit of meeting police at the camp whenever an eviction was announced, protesting and delaying the eviction. The protests ended with the police department’s callous destruction of the camp in mid-December 2021.

This was not a flash-in-the-pan, individualized, local conflict. Both the eviction announcement and the subsequent mass eviction defense were manifestations of a years-long housing crisis that has festered like an infected sore since the start of this pandemic. 

The circumstances of this crisis were created by austerity measures implemented during the Reagan Administration, and the results are erupting around us, especially here at the University of Vermont.

Due to the unique intersection of social groups occupied by college students, we get to live through three housing crises: one at the national level caused by Reaganomics, one at the city level spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and one at the University level funded by venture capitalists and Residential Life public relations ghouls.

We know we cannot solve problems posed by decades-old housing policies that created the wealth of some of the richest men in America. But we know what we saw at Sears Lane, and we know what we see at this University every single day.

Everyone on this campus has a housing disaster story. We made the Instagram account, @UVMHousingHell, based on that understanding. Everyone in this university has been put through their own housing nightmare by landlords and ResLife. 

In our short time running the account, we have come across story after story of poor maintenance, inaccessibility, gaslighting and price gouging, among so many other abuses. The following is a brief series of grievances that we have compiled from the account and our personal experiences against the real estate fascists running ResLife. 

It is by no means a comprehensive list of the institution’s failures and shortcomings. We understand that our inability to fully compile those wrongdoings is because of the vast scope of ResLife’s cruelty. This list is one of overarching themes that permeate all of the institution’s behaviors.

  1. Fiscal irresponsibility: UVM has an endowment worth $730 million and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-level administrators’ annual paychecks and bonuses. Meanwhile, halls like Converse are in a state of disrepair and poor quality of living, where students pay up to $10,000 a year to live in a dorm with fire hazards and see-through shower doors.
  2. Ableism: UVM has open contempt for students with disabilities, especially with regards to housing. Disabled students are subjected to inaccessible infrastructure, inflexible policies that ignore them and incredibly limited accommodations that are frequently ignored. This threatens disabled students’ access to education and leaves them unsupported in their most difficult moments.
  3. Over-admission and sardines: Current first-years and sophomores have both been part of the “largest class in UVM’s history.” This trend of over-admitting students must end. There are over 400 forced triples and nearly 1300 students in forced triples. This strains the capacity of UVM residences and undermines the dignity and personal space of students, especially first-years. In addition, the conversion of common rooms, storage areas and other such spaces into forced quads has been an abject disaster. UVM has the ideology of a cancer cell, demanding infinite growth with incredibly limited resources. The class of 2027 must not be the largest class in UVM’s history if any standard of dignity is to be maintained.
  4. Cruelty towards RAs: Residential advisors are overworked and under-compensated and they can’t speak out because their access to housing is controlled by the very organization they would need to organize against. Their position as primary outreach between students and the University only makes them more vulnerable to harassment and institutional violence. Problems between RAs and their residents, such as extreme breaches of RA conduct directed towards residents or harmful behavior directed towards an RA, often boil down to our University’s inability and unwillingness to sufficiently handle abuses of power.
  5. Ripple effects: Vermont’s working class has a long history of directly experiencing the cruelty of the federal government’s austerity policies throughout the last two centuries. Burlington as a whole is in an unprecedented housing crisis, with a lack of places to rent and landlords who have skyrocketed rent prices over the past few years. ResLife contributes to this problem through its landlord ventures. ResLife is complicit in the price gouging present at Spinner Place and the Redstone Lofts, giving a license to print money to the Redstone Development corporation off the backs of students.
  6. Clandestine budgeting: The makeup of the over $47 million annual budget for ResLife is a complete mystery. It is unclear where this vast sum goes, given the minuscule budget for repairs, vampirism for cash on residents and RAs and the lack of adequate housing for the number of students present.
  7. Literal homeless students: Community members have come forward saying that they have noticed significant numbers of unhoused or housing-insecure UVM students. This is unacceptable for a public university. No person in a civilized, modern society should experience the pain of housing insecurity, especially if they are a student paying tens of thousands of dollars per semester to stay at the university causing that housing insecurity.

Unfortunately, UVM’s administration does not respond to earnest appeals or grievances. Administrations respond only to organized action. 

This is why we, the UVM Union of Students & UVM Housing Hell are forming the Student Tenant Union. We come from every campus, every college, in-state, out of state, international, off-campus, on-campus, residents and RAs. We hope to be a coalition of all students fighting for UVM and ResLife to change. 

UVM rarely bows to public pressure. However, committed work from students has been able to secure victories before. We must speak together to demand that ResLife values us while simultaneously building the power to force UVM to listen.

We do not care what UVM claims to be “committed to” here. This is a housing crisis and the administration cannot listserv their way out of it.

There are 25 people who run UVM: the board of trustees. They’re a combination of egotistical politicians, Wall Street vampires, tech millionaires, accomplished but disconnected alumni, and two students trying their best. 

They meet twice during the school year, with what seems like just 15 minutes of public comment per meeting. There is only half an hour or so every year for people in the UVM community to face these distinguished figures that make our housing hell. We must use this time wisely. 

This semester, the board of trustees will hold its meetings on October 28 and 29.The meetings being held during one of the biggest party weekends of the year is not a mistake—they think we are too busy enjoying ourselves to care about the policies affecting our lives. They don’t seem to understand that we can do both.

We will be in the Silver Maple Ballroom on Oct. 29 at 9:30 a.m. to support the brave public commenters who will be facing the Board with their grievances. Fight through your Halloweekend hangovers and join us. We will continue to put pressure on this administration until their abuses end.

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