Correction: In the printed version of this article, Erica Ayon was misquoted as saying, “[Associate vice chancellor] Matthews has cancelled three times on us.” The online version is changed to reflect the correction; CHP apologizes for this mistake. 

“Family Student Housing.”

Most know the residential area exclusively through the Santa Cruz Metro’s automated bus stop announcement. The 199-unit housing community extends from the edge of Porter Meadow down to the east entrance in 42 nondescript beige buildings.

UCSC’s Family Student Housing (FSH) units opened to students with families in 1971 at a rate significantly lower than that of the local market in order to provide affordable housing. Yet, for a community that used to operate at near 90 percent occupancy, FSH has had higher amounts of vacancies in the past few years.

“When we moved in, they had us sign a waiver that we knew there would be hazardous materials like lead and asbestos in the units,” said two-year resident of FSH Raquel Vega. “A lot of our neighbors have mold in their bathrooms.”

For many FSH residents, however, their largest worry stems not from the living conditions, but from affordability.

FSH is no small component of a student with family’s experience at UCSC. For many students, affordable rent here makes a university degree possible.

Illustration by Amanda Alten

Resident and single mother Brynda Zeller commented on the benefits of living at FSH.

“The best part about living here is the community. [My daughter] Alyssa is able to go and play with the neighbors’ kids right across the way,” Zeller said. “I can wake up and take her to preschool. It’s free if you’re income eligible, and most of the residents do qualify.”

Zeller works part-time, but attributes her ability to live at FSH to substantial financial aid.

At $1,407 per month, FSH at UCSC is currently the third most expensive of the UCs after UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco.

In 2009, rent at FSH increased 7.5 percent, followed by substantial residential outcry.

After halting another comparable rent increase, the administration has slowly increased yearly rent in smaller, 3–4 percent amounts since 2009.

Most off-campus housing spaces advertised for college students do not or cannot accommodate a student’s family and children. Those that can are generally more expensive than the FSH units UCSC offers, according to campus provost Alison Galloway.

Former FSH resident Elaine Kinchen, who graduated in 2010,  said shouldering the increases changed her academic plan significantly.

“For me, the rent increases meant taking 25 units per quarter,” Kinchen said. “Still, in the one and a half years I was in school, I graduated with $11,000 in student loans.”

She added that the current cost of rent in a FSH unit would be insurmountable.

“I could not go back to school now if I tried,” Kinchen said. “No family in my situation could.”

In order to lessen the recent hardship many FSH residents face, the administration has extended the rate-saver option, which insulates continuing residents from rent increases, to the community for one year. The housing policy was also amended to allow one non-family member in. In years past, this would have violated contract requirements.

Raquel Vega, a Cabrillo College student, and her partner Luciano Hidalgo, a UCSC undergraduate, are raising their daughter at FSH. Hidalgo works part-time as a tutor, but the family does not have a steady source of income.

“We had to go and apply for social services in order to maintain. It’s pretty much running on financial aid, which is $1,800 per quarter, food stamps, another $100–300 … and the other half is loans,” Hidalgo said. “If it were to go higher, we would be forced to move back home.”

Taking Down the House

The UCSC’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), confirmed by the Board of Regents in 2006, included plans to demolish and renovate FSH in an effort to increase accessibility and living conditions.

“The low availability and high cost of [off-campus] housing has made it difficult for the campus to attract and retain talented students with families,” according to the LRDP proposal. “It has become increasingly difficult to develop and maintain the desired close-knit campus learning community.”

To address these concerns, a set of goals for the future of FSH were created. Included in the list were objectives to build additional housing units that “are as affordable as feasible.”

A 2008 civil lawsuit agreement required the campus LRDP to provide more on-campus housing for a projected increase in enrollment.

Associate vice chancellor Sue Matthews explained the university’s plan for future FSH development.

“[Right now] we need somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,100 beds to meet our projected growth,” Matthews said. “Our angle is to deliver something as affordable and accessible as possible.”

The project was a complete renovation plan, one where the existing FSH units would be demolished in two phases, and replaced with higher-density units and an expanded childcare facility — effectively doubling the available living space.

Campus provost Galloway said the amount of relief the university can provide is limited. However, she said she is hoping the university will be able to help those who are in “critical condition.”

The plan was met with significant resident concern over raised pricing. Former FSH resident Kinchen said the administration’s “critical condition” criteria needs adjusting.

“To increase rent when people are barely making it by with food stamps … [would be] a little bit ridiculous,” Kinchen said.

In response to resident concern, the administration expressed willingness to work with residents to find an alternative solution that would mitigate immediate impacts. Several campus entities looked for alternatives to the LRDP plan.

One was FSH resident and Ph.D. candidate Orville Canter, who proposed that FSH be turned into a co-operative housing arrangement.

With help from his wife Victoria and others including teaching assistant union president Josh Brahinsky and Graduate Student Association president Erik Green, Canter worked for nearly a year in writing his Affordable Family Student Housing (AFSH) proposal. When he turned in the final draft on March 28, it was also the result of significant communication with the housing department.

Undergraduate Brenda Zeller and her daughter Alyssa inside their home at Family Student Housing. Photo by Nallely Ruiz.

Under Canter’s proposal, he outlined a cooperative housing model wherein FSH would cede from the campus housing syndicate and handle rent, maintenance and community welfare internally.

Currently, one-third of the $3 million annual gross revenue generated by FSH is deposited into a campus-wide syndicated housing fund, partly to pay off the construction debt and maintenance of other housing projects on campus.

The proposal, which mirrored similar student-cooperative housing accommodations at other universities nationwide, was particularly appealing for FSH residents.

“The only people who don’t like this proposal are people who haven’t read it,” FSH resident Hidalgo said.

AFSH projections included significantly reduced rent for FSH residents, full or partial scholarships, free housing for especially needy families, increased energy efficiency and a variety of sustainability infrastructure. The proposal also outlined doubling the pay of FSH maintenance workers without affecting the contracts of union employees.

Canter’s proposal specified a clear intention to continue collaborating with the university in the form of regular reports and open access to the site for the administrators, as well as a five-year “testing” phase to ensure success.

However, when proposal drafters met with campus provost Alison Galloway, associate vice chancellor Sue Mathews and vice chancellor Peggy Delaney with their final draft on March 28, the proposal was declined in favor of the LRDP project.

“We’re pretty disappointed,” Canter said. “When we showed up [with the final draft], it seemed like [the provost] already made up her mind and wasn’t listening to anything we said.”

Campus provost Galloway, who authorizes decisions to renovate FSH, said the proposal was technically impractical.

“I’m pretty open to getting proposals for things we can make work better,” Galloway said. “So I was not going to say, ‘Oh no, you cannot do that’ from the very start because I didn’t know if it was going to be feasible. But the overall prospect of taking and blocking that out of our housing would be very, very difficult.”

Galloway said the proposal’s offered liability protection of FSH was ultimately too risky.

“No matter what happens, the university is the deep pocket, so if anything goes wrong, the liability rests with us,” she said.

Immediately after the meeting, Canter created a petition titled “Save Family Student Housing,” with a signature goal of 1,000. Currently, over 600 have signed. Openly critical comments from dozens of self-identified students, alumni and allies followed.

Moving forward, the tone of discussion may yet go a different direction.

Erica Ayon is the chair of the Student Labor Action Project, a Student Organization Advising and Resources organization at UCSC. The group has unanimously approved AFSH.

“There’s usually a student committee for new construction,” Ayon said. “With Social Sciences III, there was a student committee — people showed up with building plans, they knew the budget, etc. But this time there really hasn’t been much involvement.”

Hidalgo said he is not sure about how much impact discussion can have at this point.

“I don’t think we can be really clear about being willing to work with the administration because they’re not clear with us,” Hidalgo said. “They say that they’re willing to work but it’s always ‘under these conditions.’”

Students and residents of Family Student Housing gather at the Quarry Plaza for campus provost and executive vice chancellor Alison Galloway’s office hours. Photo by Chelsea McKeown.

Campus provost Galloway said any minor services to FSH buildings would trigger the need for massive repairs.

“The structures themselves need replacing,” Galloway said. “That’s the unavoidable part of it.”

Advertisements currently exist on TAPS buses and the UCSC Housing website to announce the available FSH space. So far, over 60 applications have been submitted, roughly 10 percent, 30 percent and 50 percent of which are from single-parent families, two-parent families and couples, respectively.

“[Canter] had a lot of good ideas, but I think a lot of it was wishful thinking — it just wouldn’t happen, given the way things are set up,” Zeller said. “But I don’t think any perceived risks of having a co-op outweigh the need for affordable FSH.”

Galloway said renovation plans are not finalized.

“The bulldozers are not arriving over the summer,” she said. “But if things change, we may have to push forward.”

Over 40 FSH residents and concerned allies showed up at Galloway’s most recent office hours, held on April 19, creating a small crowd in Quarry Plaza. She stayed to speak to each one personally, although she couldn’t promise anything beyond a conversation.