Forum Draws Criticism of Student Housing West

Students raise concerns about privatization, rising housing costs

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About 40 UC Santa Cruz students discussed their concerns on Wednesday about the 3,000 new beds slated to be built on campus and talked about plans to get more students to weigh in about the project.

The forum was organized by the Student Environmental Center and the chief concern from most students was the potential cost of upscale, single-bed housing in a new multi-apartment development known as Student Housing West. Current plans would build this new housing where Family Student Housing apartments now sit, after families who live there are relocated. Tentatively, those families would move into temporary housing at the bottom of campus near the intersection of Hagar Drive and Coolidge Drive.

Student Union Assembly (SUA) President Max Jimenez said the contracting firm, Capstone Development, was out of touch with the needs of college attendees.

“It’s not meant to be affordable,” Jimenez told the crowd. “The people who are planning it aren’t students.”

She also was concerned with a 3 percent annual rent increase for housing at the new apartments.

Others worried about infrastructure including the effect on traffic from the new project, more overcrowding of dining halls and the potential impact on already crowded lecture halls where, one speaker noted, people are already sitting on floors.

Some students, like Jonathan Flores, a third-year environmental studies major, questioned college administrators using a public-private partnership to build the new housing.

“The fact that they want to privatize it is further evidence that they haven’t thought this through, and it’s private interests [that are] driving it,” Flores said. “If the UC system did it internally and controlled it, they’d be able to regulate it better and it would cost way less than farming it out to some third party.”

Fourth-year student and Long-Range Development Plan student representative Andrew Austin also had concerns about the use of a private company, specifically Capstone Development, who has been accused of wrongdoing in the past. Austin said he worried some of the funding could go missing or be diverted from the project.

Capstone has faced numerous allegations of wrongdoing, according to published reports, and in 2012 reached a settlement with workers who said they were cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars in wages.

Will Hollingsworth, a fourth-year graduate student in physical chemistry, wanted assurance that there would be adequate and affordable housing for his colleagues.

“We have very limited spaces for grad students on campus. [There are] 84 spaces in graduate student housing for about 1,700 grad students. Those rooms go for $1,150 a month. We’re making, at the highest end, about $29,000 a year. If we were paying those rates, it eats up about 55 percent of our check,” Hollingsworth said.

While he supports the project, Hollingsworth wants more graduate student housing at a lower cost than is currently available.

Among the organizers of the event was Chayla Fisher, a second-year double major in environmental studies and legal studies. She said she worried the public-private partnership model could create a bigger barrier between students and the university.

“It also makes it so the university does not have as much say over what is going on and I think that is a big issue, especially since this is a space that’s supposed to be enabling learning and it’s supposed to be supporting its students, not just supposed to be profiting off its students.”

Fisher said the Student Environmental Center is considering putting together a petition to oppose the housing plan and that her group is looking at how to word the petition.

“We don’t want it to appear that we are against finding housing for students, but we’re just against the processes that are going on right now,” she said.

Meanwhile, the SUA Housing Working Group is planning to go door to door to all dorms and apartments on campus to gauge student opinions about the project, said Hermes Padilla, a double major in community studies and Latin American and Latino studies and head of the working group.

“Our goal is to have a better representation of students’ living experiences here on campus and students’ housing experiences here on campus,” Padilla said.

City Council member Chris Krohn, who also works for the environmental studies department, attended the meeting because he recognized that UCSC students are among his strongest supporters. Krohn is pushing for City Council to adopt a rent freeze, with an eye toward rent control in the future, which could benefit students who live off campus.

“I think what’s going on in town is a rent control movement and they’re drawing up a ballot initiative that’s hopefully going to get out in January,” Krohn said.