Investigative Beat Reporter
There are things UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) senior Katherine Carmichael expected for the fall quarter. Living at the Courtyard Santa Barbara Goleta by Marriott wasn’t one of them.
“It’s a crazy time,” Carmichael said in an interview with The Bottom Line (TBL). “I think right now to cope, I’m trying to reenact my ‘Suite Life of Zack and Cody’ dreams.”
Though Carmichael resides in a single room, her circumstances are far from isolated — in the middle of a massive housing shortage and a still-lingering pandemic, UCSB is placing students in hotels. This is designed to be temporary, with housing only provided until the end of the fall quarter.
A newsletter sent to UCSB hotel residents stated, “the goal for you is to secure permanent housing for the remainder of the 2020-2021 academic year by Dec. 12 2021. We want to partner with you to achieve your goal.”
According to the newsletter’s email list, Carmichael is one of 349 students in this situation.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Carmichael said. “I’m trying to keep it calm and focus on my school work and everything, but there’s always that feeling in the back of my head like, ‘What are you going to do in 12 weeks?’”
Each day, sometimes for hours on end, Carmichael searches for housing. Each day, the results are fruitless. It’s been three months of this routine and Carmichael continues.
Carmichael began looking in Isla Vista (I.V.), then Goleta and Santa Barbara. When she found nothing, she expanded her reach to the Santa Ynez Valley — there wasn’t anything available there either.
Solvang. Summerland. Still no luck. Some apartments she checked out bordered Ventura, almost an hour away from campus. Everything seemed to be booked.
“The university kind of had the tone of ‘oh, if you just looked harder,’ but if nothing exists, you can’t just find something,” Carmichael said. “[On apartment websites] it was not uncommon to see 200 applicants on a post.”
In response to this ongoing struggle for student housing, the Housing Coalition, an organization made up of students, staff and other concerned community members, released a document describing UCSB administration’s role in the shortage this past August. The Housing Coalition called on the university to increase transparency and offer solutions for students without housing.
“As the nationwide housing crisis continues, UCSB has neglected to adhere to its plan of sustainable growth,” the Housing Crisis declaration states. “The lack of timely response and planning from UCSB administration paints a clear picture: the profits of the university are prioritized.”
Gurleen Pabla is a Housing Coalition member who also serves as the Chief of Staff for UCSB Associated Students (AS) and the Vice Chair for the Isla Vista Tenant’s Union (IVTU). Thanks to her roles in both organizations, Pabla can find contacts within the AS and IVTU offices of those willing to help. During Housing Coalition meetings, members like Pabla brainstorm resources and housing action items.
“[Housing] is the utmost concern for students happening now, and my priority is to be there for them,” Pabla wrote to TBL. “Hopefully we can keep pushing the university to take action as well as accountability — that’s all anyone wants.”
In a Sept. 24 email blast, the university’s administration expressed their efforts to provide overflow housing for students.
“Through maximizing our housing capacity and contracting with hotels, we have been able to provide housing options for the fall quarter for the students who were still in need of affordable living situations,” the email stated. “As of Sept. 20, the university has been able to offer housing to every undergraduate who applied for a housing contract.”
UCSB’s partnership with local hotels was first publicized at the end of August. In an email message from Chancellor Henry Yang, he ensured that rates would be kept affordable and hotels would be near or on the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District bus lines.
“The cost that exceeds what students would pay for similar rooms in university-owned housing will be covered by funds provided by our university,” Yang wrote.
Until then, many students like Carmichael will spend their first months back on-campus in hotel rooms. Carmichael is currently paying the price of a double-occupancy dorm on campus for her single hotel room. She feels thankful for her living space, but anxious for what’s to come.
“The hotel has been really lovely and everyone working there is really nice,” Carmichael said. “I’m not super optimistic about finding housing in the surrounding area, but obviously still looking and hopeful.”