UCSB Facing Major Housing Shortage for Incoming Students

Hundreds of Freshmen and Transfers Worry About Car-Living or Long-Distance Commutes

UC Santa Barbara’s Tenaya Towers undergraduate student housing project. | Credit: Bruce Damonte

UC Santa Barbara is facing a significant housing shortage for incoming students this fall, with online message boards and social media platforms alight with hundreds of desperate freshmen and transfers looking for places to live. Many fear they will be forced to sleep in their cars when the quarter begins on September 27, or commute long distances to reach the Central Coast campus.

A Change.org petition started last Thursday ― lambasting UCSB for leaving its students high and dry and calling on the university to negotiate bedspace with local motels ― has generated more than 1,600 signatures. Its creator, Dino Vicencio, said he’s been looking for off-campus housing since May with no luck. “There’s just nothing out there,” he said. 

An incoming transfer from Los Angeles Valley College, Vicencio said he started the petition once he began connecting with other students facing the same challenge. “This isn’t something new,” he said, referencing recent reports that UCSB has fallen dramatically behind on building new housing. “They’ve known about this for years. That’s what got me really upset.” If he can’t find a place soon, Vicencio said, he’ll likely commute to campus via the Surfliner train from his home in L.A. to Goleta, a four-hour round-trip.

Sarah Jochum said she’s in the same boat. “As happy as I am to be admitted,” she said, “the university admitted more students than there is housing in Santa Barbara, and that’s a problem.” Jochum said she was informed Tuesday by a UCSB representative that she is one of 900 students on a waitlist for university housing, and that there is a very limited availability of off-campus housing due to the pandemic. 

While the number of on-campus units has not changed from pre-pandemic years, she was told, COVID-19 has pushed many incoming students to room alone or with just one other person in Isla Vista ― the adjacent community where the bulk of UCSB students reside ― as opposed to the normal-year routine of cramming three or four bodies to a room.

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“There is a large group of students who have money in-hand but are planning on living in their cars because they can’t find an apartment,” she said. “We really need the community’s help in pressuring the university to come up with solutions.”

Things have gotten so bad that UCSB’s Community Housing Services department even put out a call to faculty and staff this week asking them to consider opening their homes to incoming students. “Please also spread the word to your non-UCSB community contacts,” the message reads.

Shelly Leachman, a spokesperson for UCSB, said the university is aware of the problem and working on it. “Currently,” she said, “we are planning to maximize our campus housing and are exploring several options to assist students who are having a difficult time finding housing as a result of several factors in the community, including a tight rental market in the Santa Barbara area and many reports of I.V. residents choosing lower-density living situations.”

Leachman noted that UCSB is not alone in the current housing crunch. “Many campuses are experiencing similar circumstances,” she said. “As we have done in past years, we communicate with our campus community to explore options for students seeking housing accommodations.”

Those assurances, though, have been cold comfort to students who are still unsure what the fall will hold. “My friends and I have been searching for an apartment for months but can’t find one,” wrote Romina Aratesh on the petition. “We are legitimately considering taking a quarter or two off due to lack of housing. UCSB needs to do better!” 

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