Must UCSB Students Live in Their Cars?

The University Is a Disgrace

UC Santa Barbara | Credit: Courtesy

Amid the sounds of the rushing waves and revelers in idyllic Isla Vista, you may have, in recent weeks, increasingly heard another sound: desperation.

With a month to go before the start of classes, hundreds, if not thousands of incoming UC Santa Barbara students face the prospect of not having housing in Isla Vista for the upcoming school year. Scroll through the forums of UCSB-adjacent social media pages and you’ll find scores of desperate Gauchos searching for somewhere, anywhere, that can give them a roof over their head. Spots are almost impossible to come by, and the few that are available are at exorbitant prices. The waitlist for university housing is over 900. Some, already resigning themselves to homelessness, have begun asking for tips on where to park their cars to ensure the least harassment from cops. Such is the state of things at, as the university so proudly proclaims, the 6th-ranked public university in the country.

The university, for its part, would like us to believe that this crisis is an anomaly, the unfortunate result of, as UCSB spokesman Shelly Leachman puts it, “a tight rental-market in the Santa Barbara area and many reports of I.V. residents choosing lower-density living situations.” This is, quite frankly, a pathetic response — one that shifts blame from the actions that UCSB has taken over the course of years that have precipitated and exacerbated the crisis that thousands of students now find themselves in.

Luc Le | courtesy

The housing crunch in Isla Vista is nothing new. The relative isolation and small size of Isla Vista has always made housing in the area a more precious commodity than at other, more urban-situated campuses — if a student cannot find housing here or in Goleta, they face very few other options. And the university has, in the past, made plans to combat this issue as it continued to grow — in 2010, UCSB released its Long Range Development Plan, in which it promised to build housing for 5,000 students and to cap its enrollment at 25,000 students through 2025. Yet to date, the university has fallen far, far, behind on these promises: It has thus far only managed to construct housing for 1,500 students, with no concrete plans to build more, and the school has enrolled over 25,000 students every year since 2017. Even in normal circumstances, the UCSB administration’s continued negligence and incompetence in this regard meant this crisis was bound to happen.

This, then, makes last year’s decision for the university to admit nearly all of its waitlisted students with no plan on how to house them at the very least a nearly criminal level of incompetence, or an extraordinarily naked and short-sighted attempt to make up lost pandemic revenue at the expense of the surrounding community and the students of the school they claim to serve. Last year, UCSB extended admissions offers to 97 percent of its waitlisted students, numbering over 6,000. For reference, in 2019, UCSB offered admissions to 10 percent of its waitlisted students, numbering just 601.

These kinds of tactics were not uncommon among universities during the pandemic — with students withdrawing or deferring enrollment, they had to line the pocketbooks of their regents somehow, right? Those students admitted off the waitlist are, undoubtedly, enormously talented and deserving of a spot at any top university. But the fact remains that to admit so many new students without any plan at all to house them, in an area already on the precipice of a housing crisis, actively harms their education and well-being as well as the surrounding community. And the university doesn’t care, as long as they’ve got your check.

Want proof? To date, the only action that the administration has taken to alleviate the crisis was to send an email asking faculty and staff to consider opening their homes to students (placing the burden on those who actually make the university work, instead of those that actually have the power to make change) — and, of course, blaming those that choose “low-density living situations” (ignoring the simple fact we are still living in a pandemic). Such is the state of things at the sixth-ranked public university in the country.

But the worst part of this crisis is the way it will exacerbate the struggles of those Black, brown, and queer students to whom UCSB is so quick to affirm their commitment. But it is, sadly, indicative of a university and university system that practices very little of what they preach — that constantly restate their commitment to diversity and inclusion yet approve tuition rate hike after tuition rate hike, that publicly affirm their support for racial justice and then increase the budget for the UC police.

Housing is and always will be a barrier to education, and in a market where prices are soaring, those without financial means to pay absurd rent prices will be forced into homelessness to attend school or to withdraw entirely.

Posting a statement supporting Black Lives Matter or Pride means nothing if your minority students, who overwhelmingly come from less affluent backgrounds, are priced out of a degree. The burden for this crisis lies solely at the hands of the UCSB administration, not the students, faculty, or community.

Chancellor Yang must take immediate and drastic action to ensure that all students, regardless of background, can secure housing for the upcoming school year. Or he should step aside for someone who will.


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