Campus Beat Reporter
On Aug. 21, UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) University & Community Housing Services Manager, Jennifer Birchim, sent an email to the campus community regarding the lack of available housing for UCSB students during the upcoming fall quarter. In this email, Birchim explains how many students are “finding themselves without options” for housing and asks faculty members to consider renting spaces and extra rooms in their homes to these students.
When posted online to a UCSB Reddit community channel, the email heightened students’ frustrations with limited housing both on and off-campus.
While UCSB has neither confirmed nor denied specific reasons for this housing crisis, students speculate that the university overenrolled students to compensate for monetary losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regardless of the reason, the school’s move to in-person instruction with possible hybrid options leaves many students conflicted about the possibility of houselessness, some considering staying home for another school year.
Dino Vicencio, a UCSB third-year transfer student, started an online petition in response to Birchim’s announcement calling for the university to listen to their students and search for more effective solutions to combat the housing crisis. The Bottom Line (TBL) sat down with Vicencio to discuss how dire this situation is for students.
Transferring to UCSB from Los Angeles, Vicencio began looking for apartments at the end of spring quarter 2021. To his disbelief, he saw few available rooms and apartments across numerous apartment buildings and boarding websites. Without local housing, Vicencio had planned to commute to class from his apartment in Burbank — a commute worth 10 hours per week.
This issue prompted him to see if others were having similar problems, and Vicencio consulted the UCSB subreddit.
As a self-described “older” student, he recalled his surprise to see that even younger students (between the ages of 18-21) were also unable to find housing both on and off-campus. One recent UCHO email particularly remarked how there were over 1,000 students on the apartment waiting list this past summer.
“And then I saw parents talking about how their kids were going to be homeless, and they were going to be worried they were going to be living out of their cars,” said Vicencio.
Vicencio said this idea gave him flashbacks to 2005 when he was displaced after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
“I don’t want to watch people [become] homeless living in their cars,” Vicencio reflected. “It’s a horrible thing to see and I don’t want to see it twice.”
However, for some students, this idea is already a reality. In an interview with TBL, one computer engineering student (who wished to remain anonymous) explained how they intend to live in their car this upcoming year.
As an independent fourth-year transfer student, the student has no in-state family to fall back on, leaving them no other choice but to sleep in their car until others cancel their contracts and more housing becomes available.
This summer, they attempted to obtain a permit to park on-campus and have closer access to the UCSB Recreation Center to use the bathroom and shower.
“However, they won’t even let you get a vehicle parking permit if you don’t have a signed lease,” the 21-year-old states. “They ask you to get a signed [housing] lease in order to get a parking permit.”
Thus, for the time being, the student plans to park in Isla Vista (I.V.) and skateboard to campus in order to use such utilities and attend class.
“I just want to finish my final year and get out of here. So, you know, if that means sleeping in my car for, you know, the time being until I find other space … then that’s fine with me.”
After fruitlessly reaching out to Campus Housing to see what else students could do to avoid homelessness, the student remains skeptical about the promise of an efficient response from the university.
The fourth-year student also remarks how I.V. zoning laws and beach-side location exacerbates the housing shortage. This comes in tandem with a history of hiccups while managing housing for students in the past. One example is when Sustainable University Now (SUN), a coalition of community groups, accused UCSB and Chancellor Yang of breaching the 2010 Long Range Development (LRDP) Plan this past June.
The goal of this development plan was to increase enrollment from the previous cap of 20,000 to 25,000 students, while also housing “100 percent of these additional students and the faculty and staff needed to serve them.”
SUN stated that the school exceeded this cap in student enrollment and the construction of additional on-campus housing. Since 2010, UCSB only built enough dorms to house the additional 1,500 projected and failed to accommodate the number of accepted students exceeding this number.
Vicencios’ petition poses one solution that would have the university partner with local hotels and have unhoused students board there. He cites an example from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, in which the university placed 500 of their students in a nearby hotel in 2009 as the school built additional dormitories to meet the “greater demand” of housing. Now officially entering Fall quarter, the university has recently begun to take similar action and house students in local hotels around Goleta.
“I don’t want to give the impression that I think the admin of UCSB are a bunch of monsters,” he points out. “Sometimes people in those positions [are] out of touch with what’s happening on the front line, so I thought maybe something like this would just maybe help them get the message that they need to take it more seriously.”