Students confront housing dilemmas, homelessness as UC system faces housing shortage

Limited campus accommodations and skyrocketing rent prices for off-campus residences have left the University of California (UC) system struggling to meet student demand for affordable housing. Surrounded by protected forest, UC-Santa Cruz (UCSC) in particular faces long-standing systemic, environmental, and structural obstacles that make it difficult for the university to reconcile UC system-wide plans to enroll and house more students with local community’s concerns about the environmental and financial impact of such growth, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Although UC-Santa Cruz has enough campus housing for more than half of its 18,000 undergraduates, there still isn’t enough housing to meet student demand. Despite the need for additional housing, the university hasn’t completed a new dorm since 2004. Plans to expand on-campus housing are frequently met with litigation from environmental groups, and efforts to make off-campus housing more affordable often face resistance from local home associations and the real estate industry, both statewide and nationally.

Over the past two decades, UC-Santa Cruz has attempted to provide more campus housing by increasing the density of already existing dorms, and adding new floors to some buildings. Students also seek out affordable campus housing in the Village, a series of temporary living units, and Camper Park, single-occupant recreational vehicles where residents share a community building with restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and a lounge/study room, according to its website.

Despite difficulties surrounding on-campus construction, the university received $89 million in new state funding to subsidize its most recent construction plans, which include nearly tripling  the number of students living in one of its resident colleges by Fall 2025 and providing lower cost housing rates to 320 students.

In the meantime, the university has lowered acceptance rates, enrolling 700 fewer students in 2022 than in 2021 due to a lack of beds, marking the first time in years that the institution had reduced its number of acceptances.

Impact on the student experience

While UCSC works to meet housing demands on campus, students face limited and expensive off-campus housing reserved for single-families by landlords hesitant to rent to students. Student groups, such as the university’s Student Housing Coalition, are working to bridge the gap between community concerns and student housing needs by calling for multi-family housing, rent control, eviction protections, and access to voting. 

Limited housing options have worsened housing insecurity among students. Nine percent of UCSC students reported experiencing homelessness, according to a 2020 UC-system survey. To help students facing housing insecurity, Slug Support, an emergency housing protection program, connects students to case managers who can place them in local hotels or shelters and offers financial assistance with housing deposits and legal help with housing issues. Students struggling to afford other basic needs can also access several free-food options on campus.

“What we’ll often see is a student comes in for housing assistance, but it turns out they can’t afford food either, and on top of that, maybe they’re failing their classes,” said Estefania Rodriguez, a basic-needs program manager at the university and operator of the Redwood Free Market, one of several free-food options at UCSC. “It’s a lot of everything.”

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