Over 200 students and community members marched across the Tufts University undergraduate campus in Medford, Mass. at 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 29 to protest the university’s new tiered housing plan and demand the construction of a new dorm. The action was organized by Tufts Housing League, a coalition of undergraduate students fighting for housing justice and equity, and an end to rising rent prices and gentrification in Medford and Somerville caused by the on- and off-campus housing crisis. Chants such as “Stop overcrowding! End tiered housing!” and “Students, workers, alumni — We don’t want to gentrify!” echoed down campus streets.
Tiered housing is a pricing scheme that causes certain kinds of housing on campus to cost more depending on the number of beds in a room or suite, whether a kitchen is available, etc. The administration is planning to implement the tiered housing system starting with the 2019 to 2020 school year with the cheapest housing tier at $8,220, a 3.6 percent increase from this year’s flat rate for housing. The most expensive tier is a whopping 28.8 percent increase to $10,219.
Not only will tiered housing worsen socioeconomic segregation among students on campus, but it will push more students off campus as they search for more affordable housing in neighboring Somerville and Medford. The average rent for students in off-campus apartments is roughly $800 per month or $9600 for a full 12-month lease, while housing on Tufts campus is only for about 8.5 months of the year. Overall, the tiered housing scheme discriminates against lower income students and will worsen the housing crisis that Tufts is responsible for.
After the march, organizers held a rally outside of Ballou Hall, Tuft’s main administrative building. The rally featured 11 different speakers ranging from Katjana Ballantyne, Somerville Ward 7 Alder and Board of Alders President, and Ed Beuchert, co-founder of the West Somerville Neighborhood Association, to organizers from branches of Our Revolution in both Medford and Somerville, Tufts graduate students, and dining hall workers. From 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., a program of activities was organized in “TierTown,” an encampment of six camping tents set up next to Ballou. Dubbed “the lowest housing tier” by THL organizers, TierTown hosted events including a teach-in with City Life/Vida Urbana, a Boston grassroots anti-eviction organization, and a free, vegan community dinner.
Eleven THL activists then camped out in below-freezing weather overnight on the quad until late morning the next day. Ani Hopkins, one of the TierTown campers, explained to Liberation News: “I chose to sleep at TierTown because I and most of the people with whom I’m close have experienced firsthand the reality of Tufts’s classist housing policies. This tiered housing system will only intensify the desperate housing crisis at and around Tufts, and I am therefore dedicated to undertaking whatever work is necessary to ensure an equitable housing environment for students and residents of Medford and Somerville. Even if that means sleeping on the ground in 30-degree weather for awhile.”
Aneurin Canham-Clyne, a THL organizer, reports that the 24-hour action was “the first action in a long fight against a landlord that calls itself a non-profit. And if I have one message for the deans and the trustees, it’s that we’ll be back. This action brought together people from on and off campus in protest of a policy that manifestly worsens the rent crisis. It’s a tentative beginning to a coalition between workers, students, and residents in our common interest against the landlord class.”