Third-year student Josh Ticheli opened his email in late August to see this message from the university about the status of his on-campus housing application. 

“At this time, we have one spot on campus for every 11 students currently on the waitlist. Interest in on-campus housing remains extremely high and, unfortunately, we will not be able to accommodate most students who remain on the waitlist.” 

Ticheli is one of many students who anxiously awaited to see whether or not they would receive on-campus housing at UC Santa Cruz. Off-campus, there’s a similar scramble for housing. A quick scroll through UCSC Facebook housing groups, Reddit threads, and Instagram posts reveals countless students desperate for somewhere to live for the school year, without a solid lead on where to find a place. 

“I feel unclear on how much support I should expect from the school,” Ticheli said. “The amount of support I feel like I’m getting is lower than what I would have expected.” 

For years, a contentious and complex student housing crisis has been brewing at UCSC. With a lack of affordable off-campus housing, limited space on campus, and a growing student body, many are left to wonder what can be done to solve it.

To Be On Campus Or Not To Be On Campus

Before the pandemic, incoming students were guaranteed on-campus housing for two years if they wanted it. That no longer exists. 

As students return to campus following the pandemic, demand has skyrocketed. Housing now operates on a priority-based system. To be eligible for housing, students have to be affiliated with a defined priority group, be a continuous resident of UC housing for the past winter and spring 2022, and have an active student status with the ability to enroll. 

Students without priority enrollment were placed on a general waitlist for housing, following the priority groups. For these students, the wait time for a housing confirmation could have taken up to months after applying in April, with numerous people finding out in late summer that they wouldn’t get a spot on campus. 

“I’m frustrated with this situation. And I don’t think it’s any use to be frustrated at the university because of the logistics they have to deal with,” Ticheli noted. “They have only so many housing slots available and they have this number of students to provide housing to. It Just doesn’t add up.”

Ticheli had to decide whether to fully commit to the search for off- campus housing, defer to the winter quarter in order to spend more time looking for secure housing, or think of another solution. But uncertainty over finding housing, both on-and off-campus, made his decision difficult. 

Ultimately, Ticheli decided to enroll part-time and take one online class while he stays at home. He’s going to try to find a place for winter but he still has concerns that he’s only prolonging his housing limbo. 

“Who’s to say housing […] will be any different for the winter than it is right now?” Ticheli added. 

Housing capacity on campus versus student demand for on- campus housing are at odds. In an email correspondence with City on a Hill Press, Kevin Tresham, the Associate Director of Student Housing Services, stated that the expected housing capacity on campus is 9,145 spaces in undergraduate housing. 

In comparison, there are currently 10,381 housing applications from undergraduate students for fall 2022, according to Tresham — more than half of the enrolled 2021-2022 undergraduate student body, at 60.8 percent. Tresham notes that this total does not include applications that were later canceled, as it can be hard to track. Therefore, this total is likely an undercount of student demand for on-campus housing. 

Financing on-campus housing for the university has also impacted development, as described by Steve Houser, the Director of Employee Housing and Capital Planning. 

“If you think of housing as an economic entity, we have a credit card limit, and the state or the University of California will only allow so much debt to be encumbered by our housing entity here at UC Santa Cruz,” Houser said. He further stated, “We could build and build and build, but we go so far into debt, we can’t pay the mortgage. No creditor is going to want that.” 

The California State Legislature recently allocated $89 million in state grants to fund UCSC’s Phase 2 in Kresge’s renovation. Houser noted that there is still an insufficient revenue stream by the state of California. He also added that UCSC cannot offset housing construction costs through other revenue streams, as compared to a campus like UCLA, which has its own revenue stream from its hospital. 

“[The State of California has] made some recent gestures,” Houser said. “But they’re not making overwhelmingly benevolent gestures to support more housing at any of the UC campuses.” 

The Off-Campus Search

The Out of Reach Report, conducted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, along with Housing Santa Cruz County, found that Santa Cruz County is the second most expensive region to rent housing in the United States in 2022. 

According to UCSC Community Rentals, the average rent cost for just a one-bedroom property from April 1, 2022, to June 30, 2022, was approximately $2,784.50. The Out of Reach Report also concluded that in order to pay for a two bedroom rental, with a fair-market rate of $3,138, you would need to earn an hourly wage of $60.35. 

“It’s such a foreign concept to me that I [understood] the more I was looking for housing. The fear of not having a place to live in the city that I need to live in.” Third-year student Leo Capuano

Third-year Leo Capuano is looking for off-campus housing in Santa Cruz. During his search, he experienced firsthand the competitiveness of securing a listing.

“A notification [on my phone] would pop up the second houses came on or were listed. I would usually be one of the first if not the first to apply,” Capuano said. “And then within less than 24 hours, the house had over 50 applications. So it’d be like, zero days listed, 64 applicants.” 

Capuano described his housing search as extremely frustrating — and expensive. He and his roommates have spent hundreds of dollars just on housing applications, sometimes to not even receive notice that their application had been rejected.

For many students, the search has been as stressful as it is costly. Capuano emphasized that a perceived lack of support and communication from the university only increased his feelings of housing instability and uncertainty. 

“It’s such a foreign concept to me that I [understood] the more I was looking for housing. The fear of not having a place to live in the city that I need to live in,” Capuano said. “It’s hard to maintain a feeling of hope and being super motivated.” 

The Future of On-Campus Housing

Two current major student housing development projects are the Kresge College Renewal and Expansion Project and Student Housing West. 

Jolie Kerns, the Director of Physical and Environmental Planning at UCSC, corresponded with City on a Hill Press over email about the Kresge Project’s purpose and logistics. The project, which began in 2017, will construct three residential halls with 400 beds, primarily in triples in Phase 1, according to Kerns. They will be completed in early 2023. Kresge Phase 2, which will be voted on for reapproval by the UC Board of Regents on Nov. 17, will focus on renovating and reconstructing Kresge’s existing buildings. It will provide an estimated 585 beds, in singles, doubles, and triples. In total, a net of 615 new beds will be provided for students.

Student Housing West, initially approved by the UC Board of Regents in 2019, will add approximately 3,000 beds on- campus across two areas, Heller Drive and East Meadow. 

The development has faced ongoing litigation, mainly related to the East Meadow. The building has been contested over the project’s discrepancies in design, environmental evaluations, and inaccurate reports of alternative site proposal costs.  Student Housing West has been stalled since June 2022 due to a lawsuit asserting that construction will harm the bird and frog habitat in East Meadow. 

Despite efforts to provide more housing to students in the future, numerous students are left wondering where they will stay in the present. Many, like Leo Capuano, still feel as though there has been insufficient action by the university in taking meaningful steps to ensure all students have access to housing — and hope to see more action in the future. 

“The University of Santa Cruz, California has the capability and the means to do something about it. As students, we can protest, we can work together,” Capuano said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the people in the positions of power who are going to be able to make a difference in the legislation and in building more housing.”

Additional Reporting by Rachel Raiyani.