There's No Place Like Home

    Converting living rooms or lofts to bedrooms in shared apartments off campus is popular among students such as Revelle College junior Wendy Chao, who make such rennovations to lower the cost of residing in such an expensive community. (Sanh Luong/Guardian)

    In the game of gawking at expensive real estate, extravagant celebrity mansions in cities such as Beverly Hills and Malibu are easily the most talked-about targets. It may, then, come as a surprise to debt-ridden Tritons that San Diego’s own UC campus currently sits on the most expensive housing market in the nation: Based on the recently released Home Price Comparison Index by Coldwell Banker, La Jolla has been dubbed the priciest real-estate market in the United States, with the average home selling for a whopping $1.8 million.

    This claim to notoriety can be linked to a number of culprits. Local realtor Nik Mazzola — an employee of Andrew Arroyo Real Estate — pointed out that a choice few homes are worth over $10 million, skewing the average. Since February 2008, three homes with that sky-high pricetag have been sold, the most expensive one going for $16.5 million. Proximity to the beach and a drop in real estate for surrounding ZIP codes such as Chula Vista and Oceanside have also affected La Jolla’s ranking.

    “We’re one of the most sought-after ZIP codes in the country,” Mazzola said. “And this year it appears we are the most expensive ZIP code to purchase property in.”

    For those of us without a millionaire budget, finding affordable housing in such a swanky area may seem like a daunting, if not impossible, task. However, more pratical options do exist: condo rentals in La Jolla — many of which are located in the nearby UTC area — average from $1,000 to $2,000 per month, in contrast to the average home rental, priced at $4,000 to $10,000 per month.

    Commuter Student Services is a key university housing resource, hosting an off-campus housing directory that includes rental and roommate listings posted specifically for UCSD students and holds several housing workshops during Winter and Spring Quarters.

    In addition, students can receive one-on-one counseling, housing search checklists, average rental rates in San Diego and a list of apartments close to campus at the Commuter Lounge located on the first floor of Price Center East.

    According to director Imani Tyus, CSS attempts to provide students with the most low-cost options available.

    “With La Jolla’s rent being so expensive, students may come to Commuter Student Services to find a second roommate, and some students end up moving a little further away from campus because rent is more economical,” Tyus said.

    Eleanor Roosevelt College junior Haneen Oriqat was thankful for an opportunity to remain in the ZIP code. She lived in the Costa Verde apartments last year, a popular housing option for UCSD students, paying $2,023 per month with two roomates for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment.

    “I like living off campus, but on campus was a little easier,” Oriqat said. “There’s a lot more freedom off campus; I got sick of the on campus atmosphere.”

    However, for all those who prefer to roll out of bed 10 minutes before class or participate more actively in campus events, on-campus housing may be a more reasonable choice. Currently, a double room in a residence hall costs $9,506 annually per student, while double room apartments go for $9,194 — including room and board. Singles are roughly $800 more, and triples $750 less per year.

    Sixth College freshman Denise Lem currently lives in her college’s residence halls, and plans to continue living on campus for her sophomore year because to her the convenience of living close to class is well worth the price.

    “I love living on campus because we are close to the dining halls and all of the other students,” Lem said. “Everything is right there.”

    Currently, on-campus housing is guaranteed to freshmen and sophomores only.

    In lieu of the difficult off-campus house hunt, director of Housing and Dining Mark Cunningham wants to increase the overall number of students living on campus, including both graduates and undergraduates; there are over 10,000 students in university housing, and currently 94 percent of all freshmen and 82 percent of sophomores reside on campus.

    “The goal is to get 50 percent of the total population on campus … to have 15,000 students living on campus of the 30,000 total student enrollment anticipated when the campus reaches full capacity,” Cunningham said in an e-mail.

    In order to reach this goal, new residence halls are currently under construction, and plans are being made to build more in the future. In September 2009, transfer student housing, located in Eleanor Roosevelt College near Cafe Ventanas, will open its doors, holding 1,060 beds and hopefully making possible a two-year housing guarantee similar to that of undergraduates.

    In September 2010, construction will commence on an 800-bed housing complex for transfer students just north of the Rady School of Management, and there will be additional graduate housing completed this academic year in the health sciences neighborhood, offering 450 new on-campus beds.

    Ungergraduate housing is growing branches as well. Within the next three years, the housing department will make room for 2,500 more undergraduates, including 500 new beds in Revelle College and 275 in John Muir College. From 2012 to 2013, the university is also looking to provide room for approximately 1,800 beds for junior and senior housing.

    And it appears these numbers are largely in student interest. According to Cunningham, the sophomore housing acceptance rate has gone up by 2 percent over the last five years. This may seem nominal, though Cunningham noted its significance when considering UCSD’s large student body.

    “I think it’s due to a combination of real estate, gasoline and transportation cost,” he said. “But we see demand coming up — we wouldn’t be building if demand wasn’t there.”

    Moving off campus is still an attractive option. Mazzola explained that purchasing a condo in La Jolla is a smart choice for students who plan to stay in the area for an extended period. Housing loans, such as the Federal Housing Administration loan, allow buyers to close a sale after putting only 3 percent down.

    “If you are staying in La Jolla for four years, instead of renting for four years, you could buy through the FHA loans, and pay the same amount as opposed to renting,” Mazzola said. “You could actually own it and pay the same.”

    Eleanor Roosevelt College sophomore Dorothy Hoang lives in an off-campus condo about 20 minutes away from campus on foot — a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment that her family purchased in May 2002 for $200,000.

    Hoang said she prefers the freedom of living off campus, as well as the significant savings in her situation. Another advantage of owning the condo is that she and her family are able to rent it out for additional revenue.

    “It’s not the most convenient thing, but living off campus saves you thousands of dollars,” Hoang said. “The responsibilities you learn from it are worthwhile. It’s a heads-up for the future and living on your own.”

    Despite living in a city of millionaires, a little borrowed cash and some creativity can allow students to find the right housing option in a sea of mansions and summer homes.

    “I think if you’re smart, you’re going to look a lot earlier than the average student. I’ve seen college students get unbelievable deals by using all of their resources, which includes online, Craigslist, real-estate agents and the [San Diego Union-] Tribune,” Mazzola said. “Exhaust all of your resources.”

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