By Jenna Purcell
City on a Hill Press Editor
For many of the kids who live in UC Santa Cruz’s Family Student Housing (FSH), the evening of March 30 marked little more than the first basketball games and swing-set testings of spring quarter. For many FSH tenants, however, Monday night might have marked the beginning of the end to these whimsical, playful scenarios.
In a meeting with UCSC representatives on Monday, approximately 100 FSH tenants put family dinnertime on hold to dispute the recent university proposal to increase the rent for FSH residents. The proposed rent increase is 7.5 percent, which would mean a hike in monthly rent from $1,210 to $1,301.
For anthropology teaching assistant and father-of-one Christian Palmer, who is expecting a second child in September, the potential rent increase has forced him to look outside of Santa Cruz for housing.
“It’s just another hundred dollars we can’t spend on food, gas, insurance and all the other things we need,” Palmer said. “We don’t have any other options. No one wants to rent a studio or a one-bedroom to a couple with kids, and we can’t afford rent in Santa Cruz. The closest affordable place is probably Watsonville, which is a 40-minute commute every day.”
Many other tenants are also thinking about leaving FSH — and even the university — in the event of a rent increase. For Lakia Queen, a single mother and full-time linguistics undergrad, the increase could mean breaking up a family she has worked hard to keep together.
“Am I going to have to send my daughter to live with my mother so I can pay my rent?” Queen wondered aloud. “When you’re telling us that you’re going to step on our dreams, take money from us, take us away from our families, we’re scared. We’re horrified.”
Acting Vice Chancellor Sue Matthews strove to make clear the university’s willingness to work with FSH residents.
“Their stories are all very compelling. We’re trying to balance the needs of the entire community,” Matthews said. “We definitely want to keep open all lines of communication. There’s been some talk of potential program changes, and we’re very open to having those conversations.”
FSH resident Katie Howenstine helped to organize tenants and inform them about this issue. Together with a small organizing committee, Howenstine created a petition supporting affordable housing for FSH tenants. So far, 98 percent of the residents have signed it.
“It’s really amazing that there are so many people who are so passionate and organized about this,” Howenstine said. “A lot of these people are students with children. It’s incredible that they’re willing to help when they have so little extra time and energy.”
Matthews said the rent increase is planned to go toward future renovations of FSH, including the construction of 200 new apartments. Current renovations at Porter and Cowell paired with other construction expenses have put the planning for these FSH renovations on hold, however. Thus, many of the proposed benefits of the rent increase might not come to fruition until after current tenants have graduated.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Queen said. “We pay for something that we don’t even see? Where is the money that was supposed to be for our repairs?”
While many tenants like Queen are against syndicating future residents, the negative response to the proposed increase is not entirely unanimous.
David Lee, a resident of FHS and one of the 2 percent of residents who refused to sign the petition, sat quietly in the back during Monday night’s forum.
“I’m not for the rent increase, I’m just against the level of organization and aggression around this issue,” Lee said. “I don’t find the rent increase as outlandish as many of the people here seem to.”
Lee explained that he understands and supports the university’s proposal to raise rent now to provide for changes later, since that is what allowed the FSH facility to be built in the first place.
“Syndication allows for affordability for all if everyone is participating at the same rate,” Matthews said. “Any reduction in rates for Family Student Housing tenants will have to be borne by undergrads in single-student housing.”
Despite some dissatisfaction with the university’s rent increase plan, many residents nonetheless expressed appreciation for FSH’s unique community and said they would be reluctant to leave even in the event of a rent increase.
“I love it here,” Howenstine said. “It’s such a vibrant, beautiful place for people to live with their children. Students are able to manage because of how friendly and casual the childcare is here. We really take care of each other.”
Howenstine explained that her interest in maintaining the vibrancy of the FSH community encourages her to continue working and petitioning against the rent increase.
“We plan to keep talking with people and to continue organizing and planning,” Howenstine said. “I don’t think the petition alone will make much of a difference, but it’s a very big first step.”