WCAAUP calls attention to Walla Walla housing crisis

Ben Kearney, News Reporter

Earlier this month, the Whitman College American Association of University Professors (WCAAUP) sent out a statement calling for a new benefits program. This new benefits program would aid faculty members by addressing the growing housing crisis across Walla Walla. 

Associate Professor of Art History and WCAAUP President Lisa Uddin is worried about how Whitman faculty and staff will be affected as housing prices rise. 

“The cost of housing in Walla Walla has reached an unprecedented high,” Uddin said. “There is simply no more affordable housing stock for faculty (and staff) who are new to the area or seeking to relocate within the area.”

According to WCAAUP Vice President Jack Jackson, the cost of housing in Walla Walla has continued to skyrocket over the past decade.

“Housing prices have been soaring in Walla Walla,” Jackson said. “The Community Council recently provided some eye-opening data: in 2011, 67% of homes sold for less than $250,000; by 2021, only 10% of homes sold for less than $250,000. By 2021, 43% of homes sold for more than $500,000 compared to just 10% in 2011.”

Peter Harvey, the Chief Financial Officer for Whitman, said Whitman is trying to support faculty as housing prices rise.  According to Harvey, the median housing cost has risen up to 50% within the past two years. In light of this, the college has been trying to help the faculty engulfed in the crisis.

“In the past six months, college leadership has had several discussions about the housing market’s effect on Whitman employees and the college’s ability to recruit both faculty and staff.” Harvey said. “Anecdotally, we have heard cases of the local housing market being a deterrent for candidates considering Whitman, but it is hard to quantify how large a role these costs play.”

In their statement, the WCAAUP argues that the new benefits program should give support for home purchases. The process to create the benefits program, according to Uddin, is a simple matter.

“Making a new benefits program requires the vision of our new president and the know-how of our administration and elected leaders to implement it.” Uddin said. “[The new president] also needs to learn more about the hardships that many employees are currently experiencing and will continue to experience without a program in place. Finally, program designers need to look at other programs around the country to understand the range of existing options.”

Illustration by Megan Suka.

Uddin believes the benefits program should be able to be created without any obstacles. 

“I don’t think the obstacles are the chapter’s to identify,” Uddin said. “Frankly, it is hard to imagine any insurmountable obstacles given what we have learned about the financial health of the college and the investment it has made to hire and retain tenure-track faculty from historically underrepresented groups (so as to better serve its diversifying student body). Making it possible for faculty to purchase a home for the first time is part of that investment.”

Jackson desires full awareness of the crisis, especially for any student wanting to help support the WCAAUP. 

“Students need to understand that investment in housing is an investment in the future of Whitman College,” Jackson said. “In fact, I think many students already understand this and I hope they will use their voices to speak out on the housing issues facing both faculty and staff at Whitman. This issue is particularly important for new faculty arriving in Walla Walla.”

Uddin also sees plenty of outlets for students to support the WCAAUP.

“Our chapter always welcomes solidarity with students,” Uddin said. “Op-eds, petitions and words of direct support — particularly for new faculty — would go a long way [in] helping everyone make the connection between a housing-secure faculty and a top-tier education for Whitman students.”