By Sam Levin /

Demonstrators converged on Upper Sproul Plaza and marched to the Residential and Student Service Programs, or RSSP, office Thursday to protest rent increases and demand that UC officials freeze housing fees.

Protesters laughed, chanted and hoisted signs as the group grew from a handful of protesters at noon to about 100 by 12:30 p.m. The crowd included graduate students, undergraduates and the children of student-parents, who waved signs as their parents chanted or engaged with passers-by.

The rally also featured speeches by student representatives and Gayle McLaughlin, a candidate for California lieutenant governor and former mayor of Richmond.

This event comes in the wake of a newly announced rent hike, which will raise next year’s housing rates by an average of 4 percent, according to an email from David Surratt, associate vice chancellor of RSSP.

Another demand was revoking a new University Village policy that requires a $2 per hour guest parking fee at the village, which is in Albany. While campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff noted that University Village gives exemptions in certain situations, for others the fee can still add over $300 to their monthly rent, according to campus doctoral candidate Erin Greer.

“It’s hitting me really hard and I know there are people struggling more than me. … It’s getting unbearable,” said Rebekah Shtayfman, a campus junior and single mother living in University Village.

Protesters also objected to a clause in campus lease agreements that allows the university to evict tenants that it deems “emotionally unfit,” and called for all UC campuses to remove similar language from lease agreements. Ratliff confirmed in an email that this clause has been taken out of campus lease agreements.

By 12:45 p.m., the crowd began moving toward the RSSP office to deliver a letter outlining its demands to Surratt, chanting slogans such as “The rent is too damn high” as they filed up Bancroft Way and over to the RSSP building.

The letter to Surratt also called on the university to bargain with the UC Student-Workers Union, or UAW Local 2865, to establish affordable housing across the UC system. UAW Local 2865, which helped organize the rally, is a union representing academic student employees in the UC system and is currently negotiating a new contract with the UC Office of the President.

RSSP received a petition outlining demands from UAW Local 2865 in mid-April and again last week during a meeting with another host of the protest, the Village Residents Association, according to Ratliff. At last week’s meeting, Surratt told the union that he was not the appropriate campus representative to negotiate with, and referred them to campus human resources and labor relations.

Ratliff said the 4 percent rent increase at University Village was the result of increased costs that are beyond the RSSP’s control, and that RSSP worked to avoid price increases when possible and maintain rent at levels below local market value.

Two police officers lingered in the adjacent elevator lobby as protesters filed up the stairwell to Surratt’s fourth-floor office, where they chanted, read their demands through a bullhorn, delivered their letter and then sat down.

By 2 p.m. the crowd began to dissipate.

“We walked out strong today, but until our demands have been met, we will keep coming back stronger,” said Tashie Williams-Powell, a protester and former secretary of the Village Residents Association, in an email.

This article was originally published 5/3/2018 on The Daily Californian.