Have we been stupid about student housing?
I was again visiting Davis last week, where my granddaughters live. I often follow how Davis addresses community problems since they are a city of a similar size to Santa Cruz and they have a large University of California campus. One thing they seem to have handled a bit more cleverly than us is student housing in the community. (Off-campus as opposed to on-campus housing.)
Let’s roll back more than a decade, when UCSC and the community were locked in a battle over the growth of the campus and its student population. In the formal settlement agreement connected to multiple law suits at that time, we got UCSC to agree to create enough housing on campus to accommodate at least half of the student enrollment growth. That part was smart. What was not so smart was then completely ignoring the fact that the remaining percentage (nearly half) of that enrollment growth was NOT going to be accommodated on campus. Yep, that’s right: our community acknowledged that the rest would be living somewhere around here but not on campus.
Did we plan for that? Did we identify sites for student apartments that would help us avoid a disastrous housing crunch as more students came? Nope. Some people tried to adopt local plans that would create additional higher density apartment sites but they did not prevail. As usual, the folks who identify themselves as advocates for minimal growth and neighborhood protection prevailed and very little was accomplished in terms of student housing in town.
And where did that leave us? The growth happened anyway. Many neighborhoods got more crowded anyway. Many locals were forced out of the community by the lack of available housing they could afford.
We have put so much emphasis on the University delivering more student housing that we have forgotten our own potential role. In Davis there are thousands of apartments that are primarily filled with students. The City of Davis consciously planned for that and they do not have the student housing crunch that we have --even as that campus has continued to grow in population. Davis prides itself as being one of the smartest cities in the USA. I’m not sure I completely buy it—but I think they have been smarter than Santa Cruz in this instance.
While our community’s pressure on UCSC to build more on-campus housing has been fruitful, UCSC will not solve this challenge alone.
We can either plan to remain woefully short of housing for students in town or we can try to do more. One of those choices seems stupid to me.