Inside UCSB’s Hotel Housing

It’s the University’s Latest Scramble to Provide Shelter for Students

UCSB transfer student Keily Molina in her Pacifica Suites hotel room. | Credit: Jackie Sedley

When 22-year-old sociology major Keily Molina decided to transfer to UC Santa Barbara for the 2021-2022 school year, she expected her housing search to go fairly smoothly. She started applying to listings in and around Goleta and Isla Vista in June, and she put her name on UCSB’s University Housing waitlist in July.

But by September, she started to worry. Landlords were rejecting her applications left and right, and she hadn’t heard much from UCSB about available dorms. Then, on September 17 — six days before the start of classes — Molina received an email from the university explaining they’d booked her a furnished one-bedroom at the Pacifica Suites hotel two miles up the road.

“I’m not gonna lie, when I first moved in on Monday, I did cry. I felt overwhelmed,” said Molina. “I thought I was gonna have a roommate, but then it turns out that I’m alone.”

In response to its extreme housing shortage, UCSB has been renting out local hotel rooms for students on the housing waitlist. It’s the school’s latest initiative to increase availability during a pandemic that has made the region’s already tight housing market even tighter. The hotel stays are only guaranteed until December 15, however, when the fall quarter ends. After that, students will have to restart their housing hunts or pay for their hotel rooms out of pocket.

Molina says she feels lucky that she doesn’t have to pay for her hotel stay — her room and board fees were covered by a grant through the CARES Act. The place also came furnished and includes basic amenities like water and power. But Molina does have to pay for food since UCSB didn’t make any meal plan arrangements for students in the hotels.

Molina, along with community groups like Sustainable University Now, blame UCSB for allegedly exceeding their enrollment cap this year and not having enough housing for the students it admitted. The school claims that “enrollment this year is at the same level it was prior to the pandemic,” although no official figures have been released.

Rachel Phillips, a UCSB alumni with a son currently enrolled at the university, believes the school may not have necessarily overenrolled new students. Instead, she believes there are just too many overall. “How many seniors went to a fifth year?” she asked. “How many students are taking full course loads? How many athletes rolled over to fifth year?” 

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Phillips is working tirelessly to help her son find housing around Santa Barbara, and she says she was convinced by the UC housing department to not even bother putting his name on the waitlist. “They told me they had at least 1,000 people on there,” she said.

James Estrada was added to the waitlist at the beginning of the summer. He received an email on August 4 explaining that he needed to fill out a survey by August 6 and that if he missed the deadline, UCSB would assume he made other housing arrangements and remove him from the list.

Estrada didn’t see the email until it was too late and was left to find housing on his own. He is currently living in a renovated sprinter van, and he paid a one-time $160 fee to park and sleep in one of UCSB’s faculty lots for the year. He’s making it work, but says he would have saved thousands of dollars and immense anxiety if he had been offered a hotel room instead.

“Would that have been easier?” he asked. “Yeah. Would I have been able to study more before I went to campus? Yeah. Would I have been as stressed? No. Those two weeks of working on the van, I was so stressed out.”

UCSB is not the only California college experiencing a housing crisis. UCs Santa Cruz, San Diego, Merced, and Berkeley have all reported similar shortages, though UCSB and UCSD are the only two UC campuses currently offering hotel rooms.

The Independent reached out to UCSB’s Housing Services, Students Affairs department, and Chancellor’s Office for more information on the school’s housing crisis and ongoing plans to address it. Campus spokesperson Andrea Estrada said the university couldn’t provide further comment on the matter “until later in the quarter when the housing and enrollment processes are complete.”

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