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Grad students’ struggle to secure affordable housing bolsters unionization effort

Photo of a gothic stone tower above other stone buildings against a cloudy gray sky in a snowy field.
Graduate College.
Angel Kuo / The Daily Princetonian

“Approximately 70 percent of regularly enrolled graduate students live in University housing,” a University website states. Yet some students still struggle to afford housing in the area.

The University offers limited housing that graduate students are able to apply for. While off-campus housing is characterized by high rents and a competitive market, some students report challenges securing University-provided housing as well. 


“The effort (monetarily and emotionally) expended by most graduates to make sure they can be on campus when they need to be is a chronic stressor and impacts our day to day as workers for this university,” Aditi Rao GS wrote to The Daily Princetonian, in a statement on behalf of Princeton Graduate Student United (PGSU). 

Housing has been a key ask in the unionization effort. PGSU’s website includes proposals for “better” and “fairer” housing — a demand expressed by graduates at a rally in support of unionization earlier this month. A majority of Princeton graduate students have now signed union cards.

University media relations assistant Ahmad Rizvi characterized the University’s package as generous: “[The University] provides one of the most generous financial packages for graduate students in the country.”

“Stipends have consistently been set above the total cost of living so that students can afford all expenses, including housing, in the area,” Rizvi added.

In January 2022, the University increased graduate student stipends by an average of 25 percent, so that they now range between $38,000 and $42,000 per year.

The University guarantees on-campus housing to all first-year graduate students, and rooms in University-affiliated facilities are subsidized, though the University does not yet have enough rooms for all graduate students. The University plans to complete the Meadows Housing Complex in 2024 across Lake Carnegie, which will provide 379 additional units for use by both graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, and will allow the University to offer subsidized housing to all graduate students.


Graduate students can live in the Graduate College, in University-owned apartments on Dickinson Street and south of campus, or in off-campus housing.

Rooms in the Old Graduate College cost a minimum of $5,917 per year for a walk-through double. Singles, triples, and quads start at $8,007 and are priced up to $10,320, depending on the type of room. In the New Graduate College, one-room and two-room singles are priced annually at $8,007 and $10,320, respectively. All students living in either graduate college are required to purchase a meal plan, which has an annual cost of either $3,090 for 105 meals per semester, or $7,980 for an unlimited plan.

At University-sponsored Lakeside Apartments, costs vary more significantly: studio apartments cost $999 per month, one-bedrooms cost a minimum of $1,458 per month, and the most expensive multi-room apartments cost $3,756 per month. Thirty percent of the Lakeside apartments are unfurnished, requiring students to buy their own furniture. 

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For grad students living off-campus, prices in Princeton are high compared to the national average. Zillow, a housing market website, gives an estimate of $3,200 for the median monthly cost to rent an apartment in Princeton.

“My partner and I started to look at housing complexes around Princeton and quickly learned that they required a monthly earning of three times the rent to apply,” said Anthony Taboni, a graduate student in the politics department. 

“At this point, the lowest rate we could find for a one-bedroom in town was $1,700, and our combined salaries didn’t qualify us for any of these complexes,“ he added.

Taboni claimed that he and his partner searched for four months, offering six months of rent upfront, and adding his mother as a co-signer, to no avail. He claims that he reached out to the housing office, but their suggestions were not feasible. In the end, Taboni wound up renting a one-bedroom apartment in nearby Plainsboro, N.J., for $2,000 per month.

“Cost of living in the Princeton area is one element that is considered when setting graduate student stipend rates,” Rizvi wrote. “Housing costs, using information for both on- and off-campus rental units, are part of this analysis.”

Rizvi said that last year’s increase in the stipends should have offset any difficulties. 

“While we believe stipends have fully covered the cost of living in the past, the approximately 25 percent stipend increase graduate students received last year has increased this differential,” he said.

However, Rao told the ‘Prince’ that the salary increase was insufficient.

“The raise received last year barely offset, if at all, the tremendous increase in cost of living, which was seen across the States and globally in the past two years,” she wrote, on behalf of PGSU.

“Hardships during COVID were tremendous, and though the University offered some limited contingency funding, this was starkly pulled last year leaving many graduate students who found themselves in precarious economic straits in the lurch,” wrote Rao. “While the raise has been welcome, it has not been enough.”

For students not guaranteed housing, situations can be complex. Felix Kleeman and Daniel Jorge are international students in the Visiting Student Research Collaborators (VSRC) program. This non-degree program is for students enrolled in other institutions who come to Princeton to do short-term research projects with specific researchers. Because these students are not “regularly enrolled,” they are not guaranteed housing.

They told the ‘Prince’ that they both moved several times during the fall. They couldn’t afford to live in Princeton, so they lived in a nearby town, biking forty minutes to campus everyday. Finally the University offered them housing, but they believed they couldn’t afford it, due to the University’s requirement that VSRCs assigned to the New and Old Graduate College purchase a meal plan.  

“We kind of gave up, living officially in the housing of the University,” said Jorge. “First of all, they were not that communicative. Second of all, we were forced to be on the meal plan and the housing itself was not that cheap.” 

In the winter, it became too cold to bike, and so they lived in a series of friends’ apartments, including an undergraduate dorm for a month over winter break. 

“Two months I stayed near [campus] because there were people helping me,” said Jorge. “Otherwise, that winter would have been insane.” 

Jorge and Kleeman returned home at the end of February, because their program came to an end. 

The University provides extra benefits for students who apply for it. Under the Graduate Child Assistance program, students with children can receive an additional $6,500 per child per year. 

“The award may be applied to expenses such as childcare, housing, and dependent child health care premiums. Students who are facing a financial, or other, hardship may apply for hardship housing as well,” said Rizvi. “This combination of benefits is one of the most competitive in the nation.”

Rao emphasized the importance of keeping graduate students in conversation, should the University consider action to increase support.

“Graduate students must be at the bargaining table to ensure that raises are attended by other fair housing needs, such as guarantees of housing for the duration of one’s time at Princeton,” she said.

Laura Robertson is a staff News writer for thePrince.

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