Campus Beat Reporter
Chancellor Henry Yang of UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) recently issued a school-wide message concerning the school’s return to in-person instruction. In this announcement, Yang also addressed the student housing shortage and how the university plans to respond this fall. The Bottom Line (TBL) sat down with Associated Students (AS) President Yuval Cohen to discuss the details behind these updates and the possible next steps.
UCSB administration reports that there are over 900 undergraduate and 78 graduate students on the waiting list for student housing. The administration recently claimed that the shortage is a result of accumulated challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and a dense local housing market. However, many students believe these factors contributed in tandem with the school’s notorious tendency towards over-enrollment. President Cohen similarly believes over-enrollment not only plays a role but is perhaps the “bigger issue.”
Cohen explains that one way the school is dealing with the housing shortage is by creating more triple-student dorms and converting various lounge spaces to boarding rooms. The school administration also plans to partner with local hotels in order to house even more students, placing two in each room for the price of a campus apartment, coming out to $744 per month. While Cohen is unsure of the inspiration behind this move, students speculate this idea was brought about by a viral petition online demanding a solution.
Cohen claims these partnerships would create 300 available spaces in the Goleta area for student housing. Selected hotels will be located near bus stops; however, there is currently no planned transportation for students traveling between these hotels and the UCSB campus. This issue raises additional concerns about late-night transportation and student safety. A recent message from UCSB explains how this hotel placement is only meant to be “a temporary, emergency resource available only during the fall quarter.” Their response leads to even further questions for unhoused students come winter quarter.
For many students, even securing emergency housing has been a summer-long struggle. For example, one anonymous upperclassman revealed in an interview with TBL how they encountered extremely limited housing options in the area and boarding that “cost upwards of $1,000 per month” when searching for housing. The student likes the idea of hotel housing that matches that of university apartments and has since signed up on the waiting list. However, the housing situation still calls to question how the university would handle the possible spread of the COVID-19 virus — especially with required doubles.
“Given the increase in COVID-19 cases, I suspect most students (including myself) would prefer singles,” the student remarks. “I would appreciate it if the school could offer the option to take it as a single for people who have room in their budget.”
President Cohen remarks how UCSB Campus Housing is mandating vaccinations and will offer COVID-19 tests for students throughout the quarter. However, she also explains that uncertainties have come up in conversations with Chancellor Yang’s task force regarding how they might handle clusters of variant cases in these newly condensed spaces. Due to the increasing number of variant cases, many concerned students believe UCSB should offer more hybrid options going into the year. President Cohen would also like to see a hybrid option, and states that AS has been advocating for this option — especially for immunocompromised students.
“[There are] a lot of accommodations that need to be made, and some sort of hybrid scenario would be the best solution to that,” she claims.
In her Return to Campus Student Survey, Cohen found that 70 percent of nearly 4,600 respondents voted for hybrid or in-person schooling this year. She also recalls her shock at seeing how many students responded to her survey in a single day and recognizes how students are anxious about the housing shortage. Combining results from the similar Housing for Fall 2021 survey, she found that while students do want to have an on-campus experience, many were comfortable with it being a hybrid one.
One of these students is second-year Dominic Docena who spent his first year of college online. Docena describes his year off-campus as “dull and disengaging” and looks forward to meeting new people beyond the realm of social media. However, he also recognizes that many students and staff may not feel comfortable returning to fully in-person instruction and likes the idea of a more hybrid approach.
“I honestly would feel like [hybrid instruction] would be the best option,” Docena explains, “Our education may be a priority but it does not [take priority] over our health and well-being.”
As of now, Cohen states that AS executives are working to bring more transparency to how the school is handling the housing shortage by creating infographics and other forms of communication that are more accessible to the public.
Within her office, President Cohen wants to reallocate funds to organizations like the Isla Vista (I.V.) Tenants Union to help with the housing crisis, as well as have more emergency grants for students at risk. AS executives plan to put out more town halls and forums. Most importantly, Cohen will continue to encourage open discussions regarding students’ needs.
“The biggest thing for me that we need improvement on, just as a university, is communication and keeping students in the loop … I think it’ll ease a lot of tensions and just make students less anxious.”