By Joan Hartmann, Santa Barbara County’s 3rd District Supervisor & Gina Fischer, Chief of Staff to the 3rd District
UCSB has failed to respond with sufficient urgency to the dire crisis that it worsened by not keeping its commitment to build the 5,000 on-campus student housing units and 1,800 units for faculty and staff. UCSB’s failure has contributed to the high cost and scarcity of housing throughout our community.
Our entire community is suffering unprecedented housing shortages and exorbitant housing costs that constrain the ability of nearly every South Coast business, non-profit, and government agency to attract and keep employees. We are also seeing long-term residents being forced to leave and the balance between jobs and housing severely compromised, eating away at the integrity of our communities. A recent analysis by a UCSB doctoral student concluded that housing costs in counties with UC campuses are 1.5 times more expensive than the average US county.
Last month we visited a new 300-unit in-fill apartment community in Goleta. With a 98 percent occupancy, more than half of the apartments are being rented to UCSB undergraduates. Students of means are outcompeting our teachers, nurses, and hospitality workers for housing.
Our County and cities are laboring under rigid state mandates to boost housing production. The County must build 4,142 units in the unincorporated south coast by 2031 and the City of Goleta must build 1,837 more units. The allocation is six times greater than in the state’s previous housing cycle because of a formula that, along with projected population growth, takes our astronomic housing costs and crowding into account. UCSB bears a huge part of the responsibility for this situation.
UCSB’s housing failures have had terrible impacts on its students and faculty. Students have been forced to pay inflated rents, subsist in crowded and often dangerous conditions, and live in cars. Over 2,000 students are forced to triple up in dorm rooms designed for two. Many teaching assistants at UCSB spend well over half their salaries on housing. Faculty and staff are similarly affected. Others undergo long commutes from points north and south with more affordable housing.
UCSB is under a binding contract with the County and the City of Goleta for a build-as-you-grow housing as its student enrollment grew to 25,000 which occurred in 2021. In exchange for its commitment to build that housing, the County and City of Goleta formally endorsed the California Coastal Commission’s approval of the University’s expansion in 2010.
It is distressing that to this day, UCSB has failed to keep its legal and binding agreements while the campus received the benefit of its bargain. The campus recently and very quietly released a request-for-qualifications (RFQ) to build 3,500 student beds by 2029. This suggests that it could complete its housing 8 long years after exceeding enrollment of 25,000. Apparently the RFQ marks the end of UCSB’s pursuit of the controversial windowless Munger Hall and, instead, is pivoting back to building according to the 2010 plan, which effectively wasted a decade with no progress on housing.
However, the UC Regents’ Capital Financial Plan 2022-2028 reveals that UCSB has no realistic budget for the student, faculty and staff housing needed to accommodate its past growth, much less to address the future growth that the Regents are poised to accelerate. In its project objectives to the Regents, UCSB requested absolutely nothing for housing while six other UC campuses collectively asked the Regents for $4.79 billion for their housing needs.
Not all UC’s are housing scofflaws. UCLA has achieved its goal of guaranteed housing for all first-year students for four years and all new transfer students for two years. UC San Diego, while currently out of housing compliance, has a major project under construction to be completed in the next year.
Given the magnitude of the housing crisis and the university’s inability to address it, California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta could place UCSB under a consent decree for housing. Such a decree—the first of its kind—would ensure that the university is legally bound to take measurable and timely steps to alleviate its housing crisis. Governor Newsom and Attorney General Bonta are not bashful in publicly shaming or using the courts to bring cities and counties into compliance on housing, so why not hold our state institutions accountable as well?
Our community’s housing crisis requires concerted action. UCSB must demonstrate its commitment to its students, faculty, staff and its surrounding community by allocating significant resources to adding the on-campus housing to which it committed and is vital to its own existence. If they cannot, the state should intervene.