Santa Catalina is UCSB’s largest residence hall and can accommodate nearly 1,300 undergraduate students.
Santa Catalina is UCSB’s largest residence hall and can accommodate nearly 1,300 undergraduate students. With just a few weeks to go until the start of the fall term, some students are still struggling to find housing. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

UC Santa Barbara students are facing a housing shortage unlike ever before as they struggle to find on- and off-campus housing before the start of the fall term on Sept. 23.

With just a few weeks to go until the start of UCSB’s school year, the university has been able to place some students into housing while others are still frantically searching and considering living in their cars or deferring for the quarter.

As of Tuesday, the university had accommodated all new transfer and first- and second-year students who met the deadline for requesting housing, UCSB spokeswoman Andrea Estrada told Noozhawk.

Additionally, the university has been negotiating with local hotels to make rooms available for those who cannot find suitable housing elsewhere for the fall quarter, according to a message sent to the campus community by Chancellor Henry Yang.

“Although we have not increased enrollment above pre-pandemic levels, we are aware that some of our students, both undergraduate and graduate, have had difficulty securing off-campus housing,” Yang said. “We have been working diligently to address the situation. Our housing team is seeking to maximize our housing options both on- and off-campus, and we already have been able to accommodate a significant number of students from the waitlist.”

The hotel rooms would include both single- and double-occupancy rooms, according to Yang. Most of the hotels being looked at would be located along regular MTD bus routes, and the housing team is working to address concerns raised by students related to safety, management and meal plans for those arrangements, Yang said.

The cost would exceed the amount that students would pay for similar university-owned housing, but would be covered by funds provided by the university from a combination of campus funds, according to Yang.

While the university did not provide Noozhawk with any additional information on the hotel negotiations, Associated Students President Yuval Cohen said that the hotels would provide about 400 spaces for students.

“There are still a lot of risk liabilities and safety concerns associated with the hotels,” Cohen told Noozhawk. “Will there be RAs? How will meal plans work? How will students get back to the hotels at night if they stay on campus studying late into the night?”

While the university is attempting to address the housing crisis, some students say it isn’t enough.

“It seems like we’re all kind of waiting for the university’s response because there is so little that we can actually do, but it seems like the university is waiting for the problem to solve itself,” Gurleen Pabla, Cohen’s chief of staff, told Noozhawk. “There’s this big piece of the puzzle that they’re really disregarding, but that happens to be the whole issue.”

The A.S. Office of the President created a survey to gather data from students regarding housing, the return to in-person classes and potential remote options.

With more than 4,500 responses as of Thursday, 65.7% of students answered that they have a place to live, 15.4% of students responded that they might have a place to live and 14% said that they don’t have a place to live, according to Cohen.

Nearly 2,000 students responded that they would like to return to campus in-person for the fall quarter, and “a really big portion” wanted to see the university offer a hybrid option, according to Pabla.

“The people who wanted the hybrid option often said they wanted to be in-person, but wanted more COVID-19 safety measures in place,” Pabla said.

Cohen plans to send the survey to the UCSB administration as soon as possible in hopes of getting more of a response from the university, she said.

“The administration has been very open to having conversations with us, but we haven’t seen it go anywhere really, so I want them to see concrete data and concrete student feedback,” she said.

A student organization called Organize IV created a declaration on ensuring a safe return to campus, and a big part of the declaration is providing an online option for students who are unable to find housing. The declaration demands that UCSB administration and the Academic Senate offer an online option for students and staff because of the lack of housing.

As of Wednesday, the declaration was endorsed by the Isla Vista Tenants Union, the Santa Barbara Tenants Union, UCSB Campus Democrats, UCSB4COLA, the A.S. Office of the External Vice President of Statewide Affairs, the A.S. Office of the External Vice President for Local Affairs and the A.S. Office of the President, among others, according to an Instagram post.

“A.S. execs have made it very, very clear to admin that if these students don’t have housing, then they will need remote options,” Cohen said. “I’m hoping they got through to them, but it’s really, really scary.”

The Housing Coalition, a group made up of students from Organize IV, the Isla Vista Tenants Union and other students who want to help out created an additional survey last week that specifically asked students about housing.

“The point for this survey was that we wanted to hear what the students had to say about the housing crisis because they were feeling that it hadn’t been addressed by the administration,” Pabla said.

The survey and responses were shared with Cohen and her staff.

Out of the 1,410 responses, 28.5% of people said that they do not have a place to live and 55.9% of people said that they did.

A more open-ended question on the survey asked what students would do if they did not get housing by the start of the school year, and Cohen said a lot of the responses mentioned deferring from the university, commuting from a faraway location, getting an Airbnb or living in a car.

“A lot of people weren’t sure what they are going to do; it was insane,” Cohen said. “The reason we were so frustrated is because we haven’t gotten an answer. I don’t know what students are supposed to do if they are left with no housing.”

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.