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Students move into hotels, at risk of homelessness amid college housing shortage

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Posted at 12:13 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-20 15:17:23-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Universities are seeing a surge in demand for the on-campus experience. And in some cases, housing demand is outpacing supply.

“If that was me on the housing market, I would be homeless right now or would have to go back to Los Angeles,” said Allyson (Kida) Bradley, a sophomore at the University of California San Diego. "When you apply to a school, and they tell you two years guaranteed, you think two years guaranteed.”

During the pandemic, the university changed its housing policy to a lottery system, prioritizing first-year and transfer students and returning second-year students who remained in campus housing for the 2020-21 academic year.

The remaining second-year students are chosen through a lottery system.

Ahead of the first day of school, 707 students remained on the waitlist, many struggling to find a place in the competitive seaside rental market.

“Imagine being low-income. You get into a great school. You get financial aid. You think you’re going to be oka, and then, you’re basically homeless while doing it. On top of that, you’re gaining debt; you have to take care of yourself," said Bradley.

Last year, the university reduced housing density in response to the pandemic. Eliminating rooms that hold three students, they lost 2,000 beds.

While the campus continues to increase its undergraduate housing capacity, it hasn't been enough to meet the growing demand for student housing. The 2015 State mandate to increase University of California enrollment resulted in UC San Diego having the largest undergraduate student growth in the University of California system over the last six years.

"We do not need to be pushing more students into the college system until we have more housing for them," said Bradley.

She's been advocating for the many students unable to find a place to live, working with peers to create a Housing Crisis Proposal.

Among their requests:

  • Create a “friends in need” policy: allowing residents of a suite to have the option to invite an individual, or individuals, “couch surf” in their lounge/living room space temporarily until secured housing is achieved.
  • Waive parking fees for those who haven’t found a place to live off-campus.
  • Provide a space on campus for housing insecure students to handle basic hygiene needs.

UCSD is working with Marriott to offer students extended stay housing options at a discount on stays longer than 90 days during the fall quarter.

They're among several schools in the UC System and across the country facing housing shortage challenges.

At the University of Tampa, students were offered $3,500 a year toward their tuition if they deferred enrollment for one year. Waitlisted students able to secure off-campus housing received a one-time $2,000 grant.

Housing insecurity among college students pre-dates the pandemic. Palomar College created a task force to look into safe overnight parking lots for students.

Bradley’s heard from students planning to live in their cars and even tents.

“There’s shame, of course, because you don’t want to be that person who’s homeless. As a kid, I felt that, too, because I was the poor kid. That shame of not being able to buy yourself the stuff you need or eat at school," said Bradley.

University officials say the school offers a variety of services to assist students in achieving housing stability.

Through the Off-Campus Housing Office, students can schedule a housing consultation to review off-campus housing options. Students can also search for housing, roommates, and off-campus living resources with the help of a dedicated off-campus housing team.

They also have a Basic Needs Emergency Grant available to students that do not have sufficient funds for food or housing because of a medical emergency, impacts from COVID-19, or any other urgent financial need. However, funding is not guaranteed, and students will be assessed for financial need eligibility before awarding of grant funding.

Students staying at the Marriott needing financial assistance can apply for one-time support through the Basic Needs Hub.

In response to a housing shortage at Vermont's Middlebury College, students were offered a 50 percent room and board discount per semester to live in a housing complex 11 miles away. They would also be eligible for season passes at two mountains, with free ski equipment rentals.

The college attributes several factors to the uptick:

  • Accommodating students returning from leaves of absence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Students whose study abroad programs were canceled.
  • A record number of applicants and a high yield of students who have accepted offers of admission.

Reading one student's story, Bradley worries for students most vulnerable, “It is so stressful thinking about having to drive to campus every day from Los Angeles. I am recommending opening online classes for those who couldn’t get housing because it is not fair to lose the privilege of school when it is out of our hands.”

They're holding a virtual town hall on Tuesday, Sept. 21, to provide a space for students to voice concerns and needed accommodations.