Kevin Sabo: Housing Realities at the UC

(Christa Kloha / The Triton).

The current state of housing at the UC makes us assume the role of students first, human second. We are forced to give up access to quality housing. We sign leases with too many roommates to move into apartments that Grandma would call “cosy” if there was enough room to invite her over to visit. We fall prey to landlords and dorm rooms with jacked up prices and questionable amenities. But we do it because we have no choice. We live in the bizarre reality where affording our own room and eating three meals a day are luxuries, but exorbitant tuition and students loans are mandatory.

The UC Regents do not understand this. Many of them came to their UC appointment as corporate executives or political insiders. When was the last time they skipped a meal to pay the rent or buy a textbook?

At the beginning of this year, UC President Janet Napolitano responded to student leaders pushing for affordable housing solutions, especially those of us at the UC Student Association who refused to give it up. For months, we came to every meeting with her office carrying the stories of ourselves and our peers. We spoke our truth that we were or personally knew students taking showers at the gym, sleeping in cars, and living in unsafe homes who are too afraid of homelessness to end abusive relationships. President Napolitano heard us. She recently announced her plan to add 14,000 new beds to campus housing across the system before 2020.

There are five things we call on the President to not forget as she implements this plan.

  1. 2020 is not soon enough to accommodate expanding enrollment. If the UC is to add 10,000 new students in the next three years, which it is slated to do, we need short term housing solutions now.
  1. Affordability is key. Many UCs are located in expensive areas, but this is no excuse. The UC has a social and moral responsibility to provide housing options low income students can afford. To not give them a place to live is to say they do not deserve the social mobility a world class education owes them.
  1. We will not consent to sacrifice quality for density’s sake. Already, there are dorm rooms with too many beds and too few desks. We need common space to breathe, stretch, study, and thrive.
  1. For the sake of graduate students who teach many of our classes and other student parents, we need to expand family housing too. Part of the new plan includes densifying family housing. This is not sustainable, nor acceptable to students trying to advance their educations and their families at the same time.
  1. Housing is not the only issue stretched thin with expanded enrollment. Please uphold the responsibility to also invest in food plans we can afford, mental health services, manageable classroom sizes, and support for campus workers who keep the lights on in our buildings.

This is not an exhaustive list. Our needs as students are as diverse as they are urgent. But the lack of quality, affordable housing remains a major barrier to student success and must be addressed now. We cannot continue to put our basic needs as human beings on hold because of the promise of a UC education. In our classes, we are encouraged to think critically about the world’s problems. This is the same demand we have of UC administrators. As long as we are homeless and hungry, we will not let you forget that students are facing many of these problems right here on campus. No longer will we let you look the other way.

Kevin Sabo is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Peace and Conflict Studies and the President of the University of California Student Association.