College students at UCSB and across the nation are struggling to afford the cost of basic needs such as food and housing, in addition to increasing tuition rates. In order to alleviate some of these living expenses, UCSB Student Affairs has announced the soft opening of the new Housing Voucher program, designed to offer students short-term, last-resort aid for housing emergencies and food insecurity.
For UCSB students, the cost of living in Isla Vista is 49 percent higher than the national average, making it especially difficult for them to afford to pay for food and rent. Rent in Isla Vista is notoriously expensive, averaging $1370 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, although prices can run much higher.
According to the Santa Barbara Independent, a campus survey found that as many as eight percent of students have experienced bouts of homelessness while at UCSB. Students without a stable home reported sleeping on friends’ couches, camping out in campus offices or parks, and living out of their cars.
Ethan Escobedo, a third-year transfer student, spoke to The Bottom Line about his struggles with housing insecurity. “Until three days ago,” he said, “I was just living in my car. I had a lease that ended in June and I didn’t want to take up another lease, so I’ve just been crashing, couch surfing until I transferred here.”
The quarter system makes it especially hard on students, since school begins at the end of the month and leases typically begin at the start of the month. “But financial aid isn’t distributed until the 17th,” Escobedo said. “And so that doesn’t align very well.”
In terms of food insecurity, a 2016 survey by the UC Regents revealed that 19 percent of student respondents at UC campuses described themselves as having very low food security, defined as “experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources.” An additional 23 percent described themselves as having low food security, or “reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet.”
According to the Associated Students Food Bank, an organization that provides free food and toiletries to students, more than 12 percent of UCSB students made use of the their resources in the 2016-2017 academic year. Two-thirds of those students frequented the food bank multiple times per month, elucidating the extent of the food insecurity issue.
UCSB offers aid for students in several forms, from student loans to grants to specific programs like the AS Food Bank. Each endeavors to tackle expenses like medical, residential, and education-related fees.
However, there is a clear need for additional financial help, particularly for the housing and food-insecure population. The Housing Voucher program seeks to address students’ needs for help paying for urgent matters which can arise unexpectedly and jeopardize students’ ability to graduate on time.
The Housing Voucher program offers students vouchers worth 50, 150, and 500 dollars for housing emergencies, including food insecurity. Vouchers can be used for both UCSB and off-campus housing. In order to be eligible, students must have exhausted their available student loans and be able to provide documentation of their needs. Students can apply for a voucher by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Miller, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Services, told The Bottom Line, “Traditional financial aid programs make up the overwhelming majority of the resources we have on campus, but more and more we are seeing the need to provide what I like to call safety net resources. That is why we started the Financial Crisis Response Team and this is just another tool we’ll have to help our students.”
The program does not claim to provide a permanent solution to the problems of homelessness and food insecurity but instead is one part of a larger UC-wide initiative to ensure food and housing security for all students.
“We know financial needs come up and when they do, students need help bridging their financial gap,” said Miller. “Homelessness on college campuses is a national conversation and we want to be sure we can get out ahead of the issue with programs like this.”