End the MIT Graduate Housing Affordability Crisis

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We are being displaced.

In August, MIT is repurposing Eastgate, one of just two MIT graduate family residences, for commercial development. As part of the Kendall Square Redevelopment, MIT is building Site 4, a luxury tower, to replace our 53-year-old home. On February 5th, Eastgate residents were notified of the new rental rates:

1 bedroom apartment: $1,672/mo --> $2,662/mo (+59%)

2 bedroom apartment: $2,148/mo --> $3,410/mo (+59%)

To ease the transition to 50+% higher rental rates, MIT offered current Eastgate residents a 15% discount for their first year in the new facility along with priority lottery access. After we protested the rates at the first walk-in session with Housing, the discount was immediately extended to cover our entire time as graduate students at MIT. 

The Eastgate community conducted an internal survey that garnered 70+ responses from current residents. Survey respondents indicated that they already spend an average of 60% of their monthly income on Eastgate rent, and this figure will rise to 78% if they move into Site 4. Without the discount offered to current Eastgate residents, Site 4 rent would account for 90% of the average monthly income. At these rates, respondents with children would have an average of $458 left in a month after paying rent; international students, $41. 

MIT’s graduate housing policies are a catastrophe. Beyond the immediate crisis thrown upon one of the most financially vulnerable student populations, raising rates by more than 50% demonstrates a complete disregard for the well-being of the graduate community at large. We know this is the first step in "right-sizing" housing to the local real estate market, and we strongly urge MIT to change from a market-first to a student-first policy. Stanford subsidizes on- and off-campus graduate housing by 30% or more, adopting a strategy focused on well-being rather than cost recovery. The University of Michigan offers families child support grants four times greater than MIT. If MIT wishes to remain a world-class university that attracts a diversity of students for their talent, and not their wealth, they must follow their peers’ lead.

We, the undersigned, demand:

1. Immediate action to extend the decision timeline for current Eastgate residents and reopen the process to comment from the community.

In exchange for a guaranteed choice of apartments in Site 4, MIT asked Eastgate residents who wish to transition to Site 4 to commit to a housing contract by March 2nd, only 26 days after it announced the new rates. Additionally, most off-campus rentals starting in the Fall semester will only go on the market after March. To avoid trapping Eastgate residents in Site 4 leases out of panic, and before they can assess other off-campus options, MIT must immediately:

- Delay the March 2nd signing date;
- Or, allow Eastgate residents to apply to Site 4 or other on-campus housing through the standard lottery system used for all other graduate housing allocation, while preserving their apartment choice priority.

We further ask that MIT’s housing plan, including the closing of Eastgate and rent decisions, be reopened for discussion from the MIT community. The short notice given to Eastgate residents is symptomatic of the exclusion of students and faculty from the decision making process.

2. Short-term action to alleviate the sudden reduction in affordable family housing stock for graduate students. 

MIT must commit to maintaining the same number of on-campus affordable housing units for graduate students with families, including future applicants, by either:

- Delaying the closure of Eastgate until an equal number of on-campus units at comparable rates is available elsewhere;
- Or, reducing the price of the equivalent number of units in Site 4 and extending those rates to all graduate students, current and incoming.

3. A long-term commitment to affordable housing for all graduate students.

MIT already plans to build more graduate student housing on campus -- good. But these plans must be made to prioritize affordability, especially for financially vulnerable groups such as grad students with families and international students. This is in line with the needs identified in the 2014 Clay Report of the Graduate Student Housing Working Group. It will avoid MIT merely developing for a housing market that is already inaccessible to many graduate students.

MIT has also promised financial aid to graduate students with families -- good. However, this financial aid is currently negotiated on an individual basis. For many graduate students, MIT is simultaneously employer, landlord, and judge of academic adequacy. Students for whom English is a second language face an additional barrier. This makes negotiating finances with MIT an intimidating, and sometimes even humiliating, prospect. People will fall through the bureaucratic cracks. For this reason, individualized financial aid negotiations must not be relied upon in place of a comprehensive strategy to provide affordable housing.

MIT must abandon its market-first approach to graduate student housing, and embrace a comprehensive set of student-first policies in line with their peers.