From San Marcos to Berkeley and beyond, it’s common knowledge that there is a student housing crisis in California. From apartments and dorms that are quite literally falling apart, to incredibly expensive new buildings or to limited off-campus housing, universities are struggling to accommodate students. A new proposal has been raised, offering $5 billion across all of California’s universities should it pass. Though such a huge amount of money sounds like it will be the solution to all the housing problems, this proposal doesn’t have a chance to make it through the government if there are no boundaries placed around how these funds are spent.
Though the student housing crisis certainly warrants a large sum of funds, some simple critical thinking into the matter raises plenty of questions very quickly. For example, the fact that there are more than 280 universities in California means that the distribution of $5 billion dollars works out to approximately $18 million dollars per university if this bill makes its way through to law. Though $18 million has the potential to make great change if it were used right, the money is meant to go toward “affordable housing” first and foremost. However, $18 million is hardly anything to build a new building. For reference, the Dundee-Glasgow project at UCR cost $300 million. To hire contractors, set up building sites and pay workers to make these buildings would render this $5 billion proposal almost meaningless across all universities if money were to be distributed equally among all universities.
A slew of other questions with nebulous answers follow when considering what could even constitute “affordable housing” at universities in the first place. Since universities run as businesses, it is unfortunately quite likely that “affordable housing” would mean cheap housing — little more than a bed, a desk and a ceiling light. It doesn’t help that because of supply chain issues caused by the pandemic, building materials have gone up in price, further rendering the potential $18 million even more useless.
All of this, of course, is operating on the assumption that it would be distributed evenly in the first place. Another likely scenario could be that the money is given to universities that are big names in California, leaving less-popular universities out in the cold. Colleges like UC Berkeley would more than likely receive more cash to help their housing cause than smaller CSU’s or state universities not tied to a state-wide program. No matter how you cut it, even distribution or not, the proposal is not as rosy as it seems.
Furthermore, although the money is meant to go toward affordable housing, it could just as easily go toward somewhat fixing up the current housing situations on campus so current students don’t have to suffer without heating or air conditioning in their units while they try to learn. And yet, renovating current housing won’t solve the crisis of housing the many more students who come to California campuses every year.
Some universities have partnered with retirement homes and even hotels to try to deal with the housing crisis. And although it hardly seems ideal, if universities are going to continue to struggle with housing issues, they may as well partner up with local hotels, especially those that might be smaller than the usual chain hotels. A relationship like this has the potential to be mutually beneficial if both parties play the cards right: universities will have a place to house students, and hotel owners will get paid fairly to accommodate them. And, most importantly, students have a roof over their heads.
The situation has a lot of nuance, and unfortunately, most of it is negative. And though it seems wonderful, a massive sum of money isn’t going to magically solve the housing crisis that California universities have been barrelling toward for decades. The universities in the state need to put their heads together and find a way to solve this issue before it escalates even more than it already has. Students are already paying out the nose for an education and stressing because of classes — they shouldn’t have to worry about having a place to stay on top of everything else.