As UC housing crunch worsens, students find out what it’s like to live in hotel – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Zarai Saldana expected to start her final year at UC Merced from a brand new apartment where she had already signed a lease. Instead, the transfer student spent the first two weeks of the school year moving from hotel to hotel.

Construction delays hampered the opening of Merced Station, the private student housing complex where she had planned to live, leaving more than 500 of the University of California at Merced’s 9,000-plus students without housing.

In hotel rooms paid for by the university, Saldana and a roommate took turns studying or dining at one desk. With no kitchen, she couldn’t prepare food. Because the hotels had to make room for non-student guests who already had reservations, she said, the university assigned her to three different hotels in the span of 11 days. The effect of constant movement on her studies.

Students gather outside the University of California, Santa Barbara library on November 5 to protest the pending eviction of students from hotels and the construction of Munger Hall. (Joshua Yepez Martinez/CalMatters)

“I didn’t start as well as I had hoped,” she said. “I’m starting to fall behind.”

Saldana eventually found a room to rent the campus. But her experience mirrors that of thousands of students across the UC system who were excited to get back to campus life this fall after a year of online learning during the pandemic and found themselves scrambling to find housing. Unable to secure dorm rooms or afford expensive off-campus apartments, some ended up in funky lodgings – local hotel rooms.

At least four campuses offered a hotel option, providing temporary relief to hundreds of students. But the financial support that came with them varied from one campus to another. And for many students, finding permanent and affordable housing remains elusive, even as the fall semester approaches.

long-term problem

Affordable housing has long been a problem for California’s public universities. In 2020, 16% of UCSD students were living in hotels, transitional housing or outdoor locations because they did not have permanent housing, according to a report from the state’s Office of Legislative Analyst. Although the UC system has added about 20,000 additional beds across its 10 campuses since the 2015-16 academic year, more than 7,500 students are still on waiting lists for on-campus housing during the fall of 2021, LAO found.

The pandemic has exacerbated the UCSD housing crisis. Officials said uncertainty over whether education will be in-person or online has created a last-minute rush for students applying for housing after those decisions were made. To keep universities COVID safe, some have designated quarantine beds for students who have been infected and have reduced density in dorms, meaning fewer beds are available. And in coastal cities like Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, students have found themselves facing housing markets transformed by the pandemic. Besides camping in hotels, some have resorted to other extreme measures to counter the rising cost of living, including couch rides and long-distance commuting.

University of California at Merced students who used to live in hotels have since moved into apartments or on-campus residences, the university’s vice president for student affairs, Charles Ness, said. But the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of California at San Diego, and the University of California at Santa Cruz have also turned to hotels to house students.

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