May 27, 2022
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Housing still scarce for UCSB students, but university says crisis has abated

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Apartments for lease in Isla Vista, near the UCSB campus. (Brooke Holland photo)

The housing crunch at UC Santa Barbara has eased a bit, with students no longer staying in hotels in Goleta, but worries remain about how the university will house its students in the coming years.

Edith Gomez, a third-year sociology major at UCSB, began researching apartment rentals in Isla Vista about six months before the university’s fall 2021 quarter started. On a Facebook page dedicated to available rooms and sublets in the seaside community, and found a space in a shared bedroom for $750 a month, plus utilities. It was higher than her budgeted maximum of $700, but she took it last July, and she plans to move to another Isla Vista apartment when her lease expires.

“This time, it was harder to find, because me and my roommate, who I’m sharing the apartment with, we did start to search a bit late,” Gomez said. “The biggest factor was the anxiety of being homeless and being scared of not finding a place.”

UCSB has faced an unprecedented housing crunch during the current school year. In the fall, some undergraduate and graduate students had trouble securing off-campus after UCSB announced its intention to resume in-person learning after months of remote classes due to the pandemic.

The situation has improved somewhat since then, and the university is no longer housing students in hotels in Goleta, as it was doing during the fall.

“For the current quarter, we were able to offer a contract for campus housing to all undergraduates who applied,” a UCSB spokesperson wrote in a statement to the Business Times.

Securing off-campus housing should be easier in the fall of 2022 than it was in 2021, the university said.

“Given the longer planning time, our UCSB housing team expects that students will not have the same level of difficulty in finding housing in the community for next fall,” UCSB’s statement said.

Many UCSB students and other Isla Vista residents are looking for their housing now for the 2022-23 school year.

“From what I’m hearing in the community, people are very concerned about what the situation is going to look like this fall,” said Spencer Brandt, the board president of the Isla Vista Community Services District.

Brandt, a 2019 UCSB graduate, has lived in Isla Vista since 2015, in about half a dozen difference places.

“It’s been interesting to see how the problem has sort of slowly gotten worse over time,” he said. “It all came to culmination this last fall when there were about 800 students who were on the UCSB housing waitlist, and unable at that time to receive housing.”

Many students ended up finding housing last fall on the private rental market, Brandt said.

UCSB is in the design review process for new dormitory that would house around 4,500 students, but the project has run into some opposition for its unusual design. Munger, designed and partially funded by billionaire Charlie Munger, would be an 11-story residential building located on the UCSB campus.

The project, targeted to second-, third- and fourth-year students, will offer services and amenities at 20% below the market rate for similar off-campus housing options, the university said in its statement. All bedrooms will be single-occupancy.

“Like other UCs facing similar challenges, UCSB needs solutions like Munger Hall to appropriately address the severe housing crisis impacting our communities,” the university’s statement said.

Munger, the 98-year-old vice chairman of Warren Buffet’s firm Berkshire Hathaway, has pledged $200 million to UCSB to held build the 1.68-million-square-foot dorm.

Most of the bedrooms in Munger’s design would not have exterior windows. The controversy over Munger Hall made headlines nationwide in the fall, after a member of UCSB’s Design Review Committee resigned in protest.

The American Institute of Architects, Santa Barbara chapter is against the design, too, and it formed a Healthy Housing Subcommittee in response to the project.

“What is needed is a wholesale redesign,” said Alayna Fraser, a Santa Barbara architect with Blackbird Architects and the AIA chapter’s president. “Unfortunately, the way that it’s currently designed doesn’t allow for small tweaks to make what we see as the needed and necessary improvements to make it a healthy place to live.”

Cassandra Ensberg, the AIASB Healthy Housing Subcommittee co-chair and an architect with Ensberg Jacobs Design, said the ability to have access to views, natural light, darkness and the circadian rhythm is important for physical and mental health.

“California and our city are struggling to produce housing – as are other states,” Ensberg said. “We are concerned about the precedent that a project like this (Munger Hall) would set if allowed to be built as proposed.”

Amid the Munger Hall backlash, UCSB faces allegations that it violated its long-term plan for campus development. The city of Goleta is suing the university for not building enough dorms, which Goleta says violates the university’s promise in 2010 to build enough housing to accommodate its enrollment growth.

The parties are in the midst of litigation, said Jaime Shaw, Goleta’s community relations assistant. Goleta “hopes for resolution that meaningfully mitigates the impacts resulting from UCSB’s failure to provide adequate housing consistent with the campus’s growth in population, as required by our settlement agreement,” Shaw wrote in an email to the Business Times.

Similar issues boiled over recently at UC Berkeley, after a court ordered the flagship UC campus to cap its enrollment due to a lawsuit alleging the university wasn’t providing enough housing. A new state law recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom overturned that court decision by amending the California Environmental Quality Act to give universities more flexibility.

Though some of the circumstances were similar, UCSB’s statement said it is unaffected by both the court order and the emergency legislation to override it, because UCSB has never exceeded the enrollment cap in its Long Range Development Plan.

Third-year UCSB student Nathaly Castillo, an environmental studies major, said securing off-campus housing was a challenge last fall, and it’s gotten even harder this year.

“It was not guaranteed if I was going to get a place back then,” Castillo said. “Now it’s more difficult because I did decide to move, and that’s what made the housing hunting situation kind of hard because there are not a lot of places.”

She did find a rental property for the 2022-23 academic year, and said it’s the most difficulty she’s had finding a place in Isla Vista.

“I was crying at one point because I was stressed out,” she said.

Artist’s rendering of billionaire Charlie Munger’s design for a new dorm at UCSB (image courtesy UCSB)