Student Housing Insecurity During COVID-19

Photo by Sammy Muñoz

Kyremina Youssef

Contributing Writer

I had to sublease my spot due to housemates believing that COVID-19 is a hoax and not following any COVID guidelines. This was really hard because I’m a low-income person of color and lost hundreds in rent while looking for a subleaser.” – A student living in Isla Vista.

This student’s hardships in paying rent and housemates not following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines during the pandemic are shared by many other students in our community. To gain insight on students’ experiences with employment and housing, I conducted a research survey using Facebook and Instagram to learn about the financial and housing hardships student tenants are facing. This research survey was a part of a larger research class on COVID-19 in Isla Vista with Professor Jeffrey Hoelle, and it received a total of 100 student responses. 

Many students reported that relationships with their housemates have developed new stress due to quarantine and differing perspectives about COVID-19. There is also a clear financial strain on students looking for both subleasers and a place to sublease in a short time frame due to barriers created by the subleasing process. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Isla Vista, housing impacts have exacerbated economic inequalities, particularly affecting low-income students — and strained relationships among housemates due to quarantine protocols. 

Isla Vista Tenants Union (IVTU) is a great housing resource for anyone living in Isla Vista including all students (UC Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Community College), the houseless community, and long-term community residents. IVTU chair, Alex Young (he/him) spoke to me about the impactful housing economic barriers in Isla Vista: 

““… [A] huge thing this past spring when the news came out was trying to get out of the lease. People can’t pay for it and some of them chose to stay home. We spent so much time as a board and with caseworkers on that specific problem … with students or parents being desperate to get out the lease.” 

The subleasing process in Isla Vista poses multiple problems for students facing economic barriers amidst the pandemic. One student commented that they could not make rent payments along with money they already owed, which made them vulnerable to eviction. Other students struggled to afford rent along with other COVID-19 financial burdens such as job loss and dealing with the pandemic’s effect on mental health. 

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Isla Vista, housing impacts have exacerbated economic inequalities, particularly affecting low-income students — and strained relationships among housemates due to quarantine protocols.”

Other students voiced concerns about the health and safety of Isla Vista and anti-maskers. With the steady rise of COVID-19 cases hitting Isla Vista since last year, the survey highlights the personal experiences and risks of privately-housed students living with multiple housemates. 

Almost 70 percent of students would not be able to quarantine according to CDC guidelines if they had been exposed to COVID-19. This reflects the implications of housing occupancy during the pandemic, and how the inability to quarantine can increase people’s exposure to COVID-19.

On top of housing situations and relationship strain due to the pandemic, students have experienced major job and income loss which has also increased stress amongst students. 

Ron Perry, a caseworker and advisor for IVTU, commented: 

Poor students can’t just live with their folks and continue to pay rent in IV. Often they are required to have cosigners, while more affluent students don’t. Similarly, poor students can’t just move out if their housemates refuse to be COVID-safe. Poor kids can’t afford the outrageous (and often illegal) “administrative fees” charged by landlords to consider a subletter.” 

Since the start of the pandemic, 68 percent of students reported losing employment income, and 62 percent of students said that it was their main source of income before COVID-19. To take a closer look into how students’ identities intersect with class in my research study, it was found that low-income students had a 43 percent higher rate of losing their employment and income in comparison to students who were not low-income. 

These statistics reflect the disproportionate impact of employment and housing difficulties on working class and low-income students. Low-income and working class students have experienced higher rates of financial hardship, including loss of employment and housing insecurity across universities in the United States according to a comprehensive survey from the Research University Consortium.

Overall, the research showcases how COVID-19 has impacted students’ housing, livelihoods, and employment by inflicting additional mental stress on students. It raises the question: how will this affect student retention rates and enrollment this upcoming year in Isla Vista?

With things are looking up with vaccinations becoming more available after a whole year since COVID-19 first hit last spring, any future measures that will be taken to find ways to mitigate the transition back to in-person schooling should keep these housing and financial barriers in mind.

Learning about these new impacts on housing from the survey allows us to learn how we can better support low-income students who may be facing complex experiences during COVID-19. Housing insecurity in Isla Vista requires more creative and resourceful solutions to accurately reflect low-income students’ actual needs during the pandemic. 

For more information on the Isla Vista Tenants Union and their work, you can access their website at IVTU provides opportunities for organizing, education on tenants’ rights, and Zoom workshops on different tenant related information.