System Fails to Address Housing Barriers

Low-income students face disproportionate effects of housing crisis

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UC Santa Cruz students, while not alone, are facing an injustice that prevents students from reaching their full academic and personal potential. This injustice is the housing crisis — where students are struggling to find and keep homes with little to no support from the university.

This extreme housing insecurity and high cost of living may not be new for low-income students — but it affects them the most.

About 40 percent of low-income students drop out of higher education, according to a Pell Institute study. That’s nearly double the rate of their higher income counterparts. It’s already difficult for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to gain access to a university. But once they arrive, the insurmountable financial burdens of living in a wealthy beach town continue to push them out.

Illustrations by Lizzy Choi

Housing comprises a huge portion of overall college expenses, sometimes even making the cost of tuition and fees look minimal in comparison, according to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study. Santa Cruz is no exception.

Santa Cruz is the least affordable small city in the U.S. and the least affordable county for renters in California. The Santa Cruz housing market is a pot of gold for property owners, but a burden for renters.

The housing crisis spans both on and off campus, often accompanied by widespread rent burden, defined as when a renter must use more than 30 percent of their income toward housing expenses, according to the UCSC-based research study No Place Like Home.

Of those surveyed for the study, almost 70 percent experienced rent burden, most of whom were low-income residents and students. Many struggle to afford necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care and juggle multiple jobs to afford rent. Under these strenuous conditions, it’s no wonder education often takes the back seat for countless students.

UCSC and the UC system vow to make higher education accessible, but overlook housing as a barrier. In fact, they continue to worsen the problem by mandating admittance and enrollment increases.

Hundreds of additional students are being accepted to UCSC every year, yet no new housing developments have been constructed since 2002. Plans for 3,000 additional beds are still in flux and actual beds won’t be available until 2020.

Even so, more beds won’t solve the problem. A one-time allocation of $3 million from the UC Office of the President won’t solve the problem. The Santa Cruz housing crisis is a systemic problem in which low-income residents’ rights to adequate housing and success in higher education is constantly under fire.

Housing insecurity among UCSC students is not simply a wrinkle in the higher education system. It’s a deeply rooted flaw that bars low-income students from thriving in a university system that preaches accessibility.

This issue must be met with as much thoughtfulness and urgency as the UC’s responses to bad publicity from the state audit’s unflattering findings. If the UC Office of the President can form a task force to address the audit, it can form one to address the state’s housing crisis.

The UC system has a duty to help address California’s and Santa Cruz’s housing crises by providing more immediate solutions for low-income students experiencing housing insecurity. It must also secure sustainable models for financing affordable student housing developments, without the looming threat of private influence.

It’s difficult enough for many low-income students to gain access to higher education and it’s unacceptable for the university system to continually push them out once they arrive.