UCSD Housing: A Problem That Administrators Must Confront

About 20 weeks after bald eagle chicks hatch, their parents kick them out of the nest to make room for the next brood. If you’re a sophomore right now, you can relate.

This spring, many sophomores will be thrust into the real world to find housing for next year because their surrogate parent, UCSD Housing and Dining, is about to give them the boot. If you’re one of them, you may be surprised to learn what juniors and seniors already know: A room in La Jolla or UTC can cost as little as $500 per month if you’re willing to go sardine-style; or up to over $800 per month if you want your own room. You’ll also pay up to $150 more each month in cable, gas, electric, water, sewer, internet, phone and trash bills that H&D has shielded from you these last two years.

To save money, some look for a more affordable place in Mira Mesa, University City or Pacific Beach. But living so far off campus has its own problems. Residents are too far away for the Cityshuttle, forcing them to spend $500 on a parking permit or endure hours on the bus, and they’re miles away from anything resembling a college environment.

Of course, many students would prefer that UCSD have enough on-campus housing to provide a four-year guarantee, but construction of that magnitude would be very expensive and would doubtlessly translate into higher on-campus room rates. At $1,025 per month for eight months for each person in a double (with food and utilities), these rates are already often more expensive than living off campus.

So what can be done? Well, by the grace of God, there’s a powerless bureaucratic committee on the case. In September, the Undergraduate Student Experience and Satisfaction Committee addressed the issue in its report.

“UCSD should look into the purchasing of private apartment complexes to make them university-owned, dedicated student housing, and more affordable,” the committee recommended. “Affordable, off-campus housing near the UCSD campus would significantly impact the campus climate and would go a long way to building community on campus.”

Of course, the committee isn’t the first body to come up with that idea. Universities across the country operate apartment complexes off-campus for upper-division and graduate students. UCLA owns 19 complexes in Westwood, 14 of which are undergraduate-designated “University Apartments” concentrated on one street within walking distance of campus, making them convenient places to live that maintain the college atmosphere.

University Apartments are also very affordable for the area, costing $600 to $800 per month for a shared room or $1,200 to $1,350 per month to fly solo. These rates are slightly below those of nearby private complexes and they include utilities, saving students hundreds of dollars a year. Also, while many private complexes require a 12-month minimum lease, University Apartments move residents in just before classes start in September and move them out right after finals in the spring. By allowing their residents to spend the summer at home, University Apartments save students thousands of dollars every year and keep them from having to deal with picky and/or opportunistic landlords.

Now I know what you’re thinking (Chancellor Marye Anne Fox): Of course UCSD students would benefit from these university-owned off-campus complexes, but what’s in it for me? After all, the university would have to pay over $1 million to purchase its first apartment building and may even have to take out loans to do it (welcome to our world). But by charging rent that’s slightly below market value in the incredibly expensive San Diego housing market, UCSD should recoup its costs within a few years.

After that, the university would be earning a healthy profit on the complex, which could go toward buying a second one, then a third and so on.

To see how successful this could be, take a look at La Jolla Del Sol, an off-campus complex that is already owned by UCSD. There, you can rent a two-bedroom apartment for the school year for $1,300 per month total ($650 per person) that includes free water, a washer/dryer and in many units, a fireplace.

Too good to be true? Well, imagine La Jolla Del Sol as a fresh zebra carcass on the Serengeti. Lions get the first go at it, then hyenas, then buzzards and then the maggots. In this complex, professors are the lions, med students the hyenas, grad students the buzzards and undergrads are the … yeah. Undergrads have to fight for the scraps of remaining rooms, and even then, the demand is huge and wait list can be extremely long.

But direct income is just the first benefit off-campus apartments would give UCSD. Consider this: UCLA has just built enough housing to guarantee four years on campus. Where do they get the money to do that? Simple: UCLA alumni loved their entire time at the school and give ‘til it hurts. UCSD alumni, for the most part, don’t.

Why? Two years away from the fun and camaraderie of the college environment often makes students and their wallets forget how awesome UCSD was during the on-campus years. By providing a student-centric off-campus housing complex, the university would allow its older students to feel connected with the UCSD community throughout their college careers. In the proceeding years, alumni would donate generously so new generations could have the great experiences at UCSD that they remember having.

UCSD officials often boast that this school sends more students abroad than any other college. But what they don’t point out is that almost none of those students are freshmen or sophomores. Perhaps those students are having too much fun on campus to leave? After they’re kicked off, students probably find the idea of looking for the college environment abroad much more inviting.

If administrators are serious about improving the quality of life for UCSD students, they should look beyond the initial costs of buying off-campus complexes and recognize the long-term benefits for the university, its students and the memories of its future alumni.