Student housing at UC Davis
Yosemite Hall student housing at UC Davis. Courtesy of the university

The student housing shortage in California almost ruined my life and continues to threaten students across the state. 

I am a student at UC Davis and a victim of the prohibitive cost of student housing in this state. My future and my prospects were almost destroyed as a result of student housing unaffordability. My father — an undocumented immigrant — was deported in 2016. Shortly after, my mother lost her job, the only financial support my brother and I had, and her undocumented status prevented her from getting another job. 

Our income dropped considerably, and I suffered unstable housing in California my first two years in college. Even though I worked as hard as I could to pay for housing, I was no longer able to afford a place in Davis’s incredibly overpriced housing market. I was at risk of homelessness.  

In the last decade, California’s student homelessness has increased by 50%, with more than a fifth of all California Community College students affected in 2019. Students of color are particularly vulnerable, with more than 60% reporting homelessness, even though Black or Latino students made up less than half of the surveyed participants.

For students, homelessness is not the end of our troubles. I was born and raised in Arizona. After losing my housing in Davis, I no longer had a California address: I lost my residency status and my financial aid, and was almost forced out of the university as a result. I could not afford to pay the exorbitant out-of-state tuition that I was suddenly on the hook for. 

Thankfully, the university was able to resolve this issue — I gained my residency status back, and I am still a student. I did not have to drop out, and my future wasn’t ruined. Many aren’t as lucky.

Increased student homelessness is related directly to the rising cost of housing, which should come as no surprise given that college towns like Davis — which had a 1% vacancy rate in 2020 – have seen almost every housing project in the last few years sued under CEQA and delayed, sometimes for years. 

Berkeley, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chico and Santa Cruz have seen similar lawsuits against new housing construction. In Chico, more than 50,000 survivors of the Camp Fire remain housing insecure, and Santa Cruz’s housing crisis led to the COLA strikes of 2019

CEQA lawsuits are only one factor leading to increased costs and the consequent rise in student homelessness. But they do play a major role in the constrained supply of affordable student housing and must be addressed. We need more affordable student housing in college towns. 

Consider my story and those of thousands of other students experiencing homelessness because of student housing unaffordability. Beyond the miserable experience itself, the impact of the resulting trauma and chronic stress on the quality of our education should be self-evident. 

How can students focus on coursework while dealing with homelessness and removal from school? How can we become productive members of society when student homelessness has gone up by 50%? 

We must increase the supply of affordable student housing in this state. We must make sure that there is enough affordable student housing so that what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else. 

Assembly Bill 1277 does exactly that. It was proposed by Assemblymember Blanca Rubio, a Democrat from Baldwin Park, and Associated Students of UC Davis, and it is supported by various pro-student and pro-housing groups. 

The bill would increase student housing affordability and accessibility across the state by expediting the CEQA judicial review process for affordable and sustainable student housing developments. It would be an effective step toward fixing the systemic problem of delays in the development of student housing resulting from meritless litigation.

As someone who’s had the displeasure of experiencing the worst results of the student housing shortage, I am calling on lawmakers to pass this bill.

Alexandra Olvera is a student at the University of California, Davis. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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