As on-campus housing competition continues to surge, more students are forced off-campus — ironic given UCSD’s self-identification as a “residential college.”
The UCSD Administration has responded to the acute on-campus housing shortage with inventions like the “mini double,” higher on-campus rents that put the majority cost of new residential construction on students, and payout vouchers that coerce students to forgo already compromised housing guarantees. As many students simply need a place to sleep, how justifiable is it to demand that first-year’s pay a minimum of $1,341 per month for basic, shared on-campus housing and a compulsory meal plan? Why should they be told that they need to spend a minimum of $3,255 on the inconvertible currency that is Dining Plan Dollars; so that they can purchase a $4.75 iced coffee creation prepared by a student working for minimum wage?
Year after year, UCSD has offered admission to more undergraduate applicants than the entire combined undergraduate student population, accordingly with a planned policy of rapid growth . The relentless upwards revaluation of the small supply of on-campus residences throughout the past decade has been driven by a combination of a growing student population and declining state funding.
To share an on-campus dorm with two other students, excluding the cost of required Dining Plan Dollars, comes out to $768 per month per student. This room, smaller than a studio and without its own kitchen or bathroom, shared between three students costs $2,304 per month. The San Diego citywide average for a 2-bedroom apartment is $2,060.
Even if UCSD wanted to build new student housing, it faces tremendous difficulties in having exhausted much of its developable land. The 1989 Campus Master Plan required that just 25-40 developable acres be allotted. In 1987, UCSD signed a 55-year lease that allowed the construction of Blackhorse Farms, a private gated residential community, on university lands across from Muir College.
Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, the four star resort across from Eleanor Roosevelt College, was also built on land owned by UCSD and rented through a $60 million ground lease  in 2004 that expires in 2066. The land was previously undeveloped, and at the discretion of the university at a time when it had already planned for 43% student population growth within a decade.
As a consequence, much new on-campus development has come as costlier infill redevelopment over the “many existing surface parking lots, temporary trailer locations, and the remaining undeveloped areas.” The Village at Torrey Pines East, built over former Student Parking Lot 357, cost $97.7 million. $95 million of that came in UC bonds repaid by student housing fees, although the development only created 807 new beds at a cost of over $121,000 per bed.
Most students are forced to rent off-campus, and without adequate rent control safeguards, private rental management groups have adjusted their rents to be competitive with UCSD, not the regional market. A popular lower-cost option amongst budget-minded students is La Jolla International Gardens. At the time of publication, their lowest-priced available apartment was a $1,575 per month 1-bedroom apartment of 652 square feet. The typical living arrangement for that apartment would be two students sharing the bedroom and another living out of the living room. It wouldn’t be very cheap, but it’d still be cheaper and considerably more spacious than paying $2,304 for an on-campus triple.
While UCSD charges its egregious prices for on-campus undergraduate housing and private off-campus alternatives gratuitously overcharge students, the school quietly manages to provide affordable subsidized housing for some. Graduate student-only ocean-view studios in La Jolla cost just $651 per month.
On-campus graduate housing singles in four bedroom apartments with a full kitchen, living room with balcony, and all utilities included cost just $468 per month in Warren College. A single in the graduate and professional student-only Mesa Apartments costs $495 per month, Rita Atkinson $516 per month, and One Miramar St. $561 per month. Is the undergraduate not worth the same rent subsidization extended to thousands of graduate and professional students?
The growing impossibility of affordable student housing touches upon the larger statewide and national issue of the unavailability of adequate affordable housing. College students are not necessarily more deserving of greater privilege of access to these resources than the millions of (other) victims of socioeconomic inequalities, many of whom are without access to pathways to college. But when a school brings students from as far as thousands of miles away together to a campus unable to accommodate them, the very least that school could do is acknowledge the reality of the crisis they have built.
Scotty Probert is a UCSD alumni and former Managing Editor for The Triton. His work has focused on urban renewal and water scarcity and is being published in The Journal of Urban History.