UCSB a Major Factor in South Coast’s Housing Crisis

At a recent Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting, we heard gut-wrenching public testimony from long-term residents caught up in the “renoviction” of four apartment buildings in Isla Vista.

Distraught people with deep roots in the community described how they have nowhere else to go because of exorbitant rents.

Who is to blame for this sorry state-of-affairs? Fingers are pointing at the out-of-state developer, Core Spaces, which is eagerly seeking to profit from California’s lack of student housing, and also at the limited legal protections available to renters caught in a gentrifying area.

I contend that UC Santa Barbara bears much responsibility. Thirteen years ago, UCSB promised to construct 5,000 student beds and 1,800 faculty and staff housing units, as a condition of the approval of its 2010 Long-Range Development Plan.

UCSB was to have all this additional housing completed either by 2025 or when it reached its 25,000-student enrollment cap, whichever came first. UCSB has already reached — and in some quarters exceeds — that enrollment cap.

The university committed to a build-as-you-grow strategy for housing as student enrollment increased. The UC regents accelerated campus enrollment and failed to build the required housing.

UCSB has finished construction on a paltry 1,500 student beds and fewer than 150 faculty and staff units.

The result is that 3,500 students are under-housed and compete with other locals on the South Coast for housing, driving up demand and costs — and leading to the human tragedy we witnessed at the board where more than 1,000 people are being pushed out of their homes, and likely the area.

This failure has been a major factor in the South Coast’s excessive rent burdens, overcrowding and extremely low vacancy rates; and it opened the door for avaricious developers like Core Spaces.

It is also a primary cause of the exceedingly high number of new housing units the State of California is requiring in our county’s mandated Housing Element.

Although the state does not allow student units to be counted toward the South Coast’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA, the failure of UCSB to build commensurate with growth means cohorts of students are competing against teachers, nurses and families for scarce apartment units.

This competition has already driven out many Latino families in Isla Vista and the most recent “renoviction” continues the destructive pattern.

The housing units for faculty and staff do count toward the 4,142 units that the county must assure along the South Coast.