This morning, University Housing & Residential Services officials formally agreed to fully meet demands submitted by residents of West Campus Family Housing (WCFH) to compensate for disruption caused by nearby construction work on the Sierra Madre Housing complex as well as to address future work on the San Joaquin Apartment complex.
Last Friday, European history Ph.D student and WCFH resident Brian Griffith published a petition with the demands — including a rent freeze for West Campus residents, a relief fund to benefit the “most affected residents” and the option to move into a less-impacted unit. The document was published on a website he created to connect and inform impacted residents.
In an email sent at 10 a.m. this morning, Executive Director of Housing & Residential Services Wilfred Brown provided Tenants’ Association President Braxton Lethco with Housing’s written response to the three demands agreed upon. Specifically, West Campus residents will not experience an increase in rates through the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the Housing & Residential Service’s Chief Financial Officer will work with representatives from the WCFH and the Tenants’ Association to build a relief fund, and West Campus residents will have the opportunity to move to a less-impacted unit as availability permits, according to the agreement.
According to Griffith, students first began speaking with housing officials on Oct. 18, after experiencing disruption due to construction of the Sierra Madre Housing complex. Anonymous resident testimonials on the petition website list “waking to bulldozers,” poor air quality and other safety concerns as issues West Campus residents have been combating since moving in.
After several months of contact with Housing officials, Griffith said he and other West Campus residents felt the need to escalate the process.
“We just basically had enough of it. We weren’t getting anywhere with Housing … our token meetings that we were having weren’t producing anything serious,” Griffith said.
On Feb. 17, UC student worker’s union UAW Local 2865 published a letter in support of the residents at West Campus, who were expected to receive no compensation during construction times and face a 3 percent increase in monthly rates over the next several years.
“Such inexplicable obstinacy and arrogance on the part of Housing is simply unacceptable both to our members and the Union’s leadership,” the letter stated, demanding that Housing officials compensate for not being able to fulfill their contract terms of providing “’proper living, learning and resting conditions.’”
Griffith and other residents were contacted by Housing officials yesterday to attend a meeting that evening, during which they were told that many of their demands would be met.
Speaking before Housing published its formal acceptance of demands, Griffith said that while he was “very relieved” by the increasing efforts of Housing officials to address student concerns, the entire process placed considerable strain on his work and family life.
“I have a little boy, a 15-month-old little boy; I’m married, you know, I don’t have time for this shit,” Griffith said. “My life has been really interrupted. It has been really difficult to grade my students’ papers and get them in on time, and to keep up with my own work while dealing with construction that starts at seven o’clock in the morning.”
The West Campus residents’ petition garnered over 100 signatures, many of which were accompanied by long grievance letters, according to Griffith. He said yesterday’s meeting and the timely agreement by Housing were likely prompted by the petition and a collectively-composed Op-Ed addressed to Chancellor Yang that was circulated to Housing executives this past week.
Lethco said Griffith contacted him about five months ago, and since then, the two have worked together in addressing resident concerns, as he worked on negotiations with Housing officials and Griffith spearheaded petitioning efforts.
According to Lethco, the most difficult part of negotiations was the inconsistent information he and Griffith received, citing examples regarding financial compensation and construction work.
“I was told that the interior of the apartments would be remodeled (for the first time in 30 years) and then someone would tell me that the apartments were not going to remodeled because they were going to be demolished next week,” Lethco said in an email. “Brian had to deal with a longer process of meeting with residents and rallying everyone. Brian’s faith really kept this project alive.”
Both Lethco and Griffith said they were satisfied with the agreements made by Housing officials, despite the lengthy process.
“I’m disappointed that it took five months to reach this point, but I am impressed that housing officials stepped up and took full responsibility for the construction.” Lethco said in an email. “My faith is fully restored in housing, and I hope that both residents and UCSB housing officials can use The West Campus Deal for future reference.”
This story appeared as an online exclusive on Thursday, March 13, 2014.