Scotty Probert: Planning for Failure: How UCSD Created the Housing Crisis

Muir College Dorms (Christina Damse / The Triton).

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 [10]. 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 [11] 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.

Data analysis of local Cragslist listings within a 20 mile radius (Kevin Hung / The Triton).

Data analysis of local Cragslist listings within a 20 mile radius (Kevin Hung / The Triton).

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.

3 Comments

  1. As a parent of a UCSD undergrad who was forced to live off-campus their freshman year because of the lack of on-campus housing, I am appalled that while I am getting solicitations to send UCSD more money for various reasons, they are happy to lease out their land to country clubs, luxury communities and other concerns that do not serve the students. This is a common pattern throughout the UC system where their primary goal is profit, and educating and housing students falls somewhere below restriping the parking lots and paying lobbyists to sit next to legislators in Sacramento. The housing situation and the ridiculously high salaries paid to UC administrators (“well, we need to pay a lot to attract the best talent”) and the ever rising tuition make me wonder if we need a major shakeup at the top of the UC leadership level. Certainly I am not impressed with JanetN’s efforts to make the US system an affordable higher education system for California residents. I see her as yet another member of the elite political machine that serves their own interests and not the interests of the students they purport to serve. I am a staunch liberal democrat, but if it takes voting in a republican legislature and governor to kick some a– at the execute leadership level of the UC machine, I will do it.

  2. I appreciate the effort that went into writing this article. Thank you for providing many external links to supplement the facts provided.

  3. James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett September 17, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    Thank you so much. My son enters this week. I’m lucky that I’m an old dad with the resources to buy a place nearby. I have no idea what younger parents of limited means can do. Right now a 400,000 dollar mortgage buys a good condo nearby and costs about 2400 a month, including home owners assoc. But with a down and credit, middle class is locked out. I noticed that the two previous owners purchased for cash and were foreign. We looked at six condos, two were sold before we got there and two after we made an offer on one.

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