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Family Matters

Residents concerned over future of UCSC’s Family Student Housing

Brynda Zeller is a single mother and full-time student at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC). She says living at Family Student Housing (FSH), an on-campus housing unit that offers lowered rent and assistance to families with children, is the sole reason she is able to juggle parenting and her education.

“I can walk to classes and my daughter goes to the childcare center here,” she says. “Aside from convenience, the sense of community is really great here. … If [FSH] hadn’t been available, or had been any more expensive, I wouldn’t have come here. I would have just stuck with my associate degree and gotten a job or looked into other places.”

Zeller adds that she would have to move in with her mother in Santa Cruz or quit school and work full time if she could no longer live in FSH.

Housing programs like FSH are in place across the UC system and have provided childcare services, lowered rent, and accessibility to students with families for more than 47 years. However, at UCSC, this year’s rise in rent at FSH—from $1,407 this school year to $1,449 next school year for new residents—will make for a total of a 62 percent price increase over the last nine years.

Campus Provost Alison Galloway confirms the rate increase, but adds that continuing students will see no increase.

As rent for the FSH units at UCSC has consistently crept upward, some students with families have already had to leave. Those who can still afford the rent are worried that the FSH program may cease to house students with families in the near future, following Galloway’s announcement at a March 28 meeting of her approval of plans to tear down the current FSH units and replace them with newer, more expensive buildings.

Zeller says she’s worried about the implications of building newer, more expensive units for FSH, and urges more communication on the part of Galloway.

“I have a lot of questions,” she says. “I think it would make more sense to just put more money into the current units and make them more livable.”

Residents of FSH—organized in part by Ph.D. student and father of three Orville Canter and his wife Victoria—arrived at the March 28 meeting with a detailed proposal, including contractors’ analysis of the FSH units for a plan to implement an affordable communal living program at FSH.

Galloway dismissed the residents’ proposal and announced she has given the go-ahead to the plan to demolish and rebuild the FSH units.

While Galloway says she is committed to maintaining the FSH program, she cannot say how many units will remain allotted for “students with families” under the new plan.

“We really feel that the [FSH] units we currently have are nearing the end of their useful life,” she says. “We would be replacing those with [FSH] units as well.”

Galloway says the new buildings would potentially be larger in order to house more students. She adds that the definition of “family” at UCSC is flexible already, but that the new building models will be designed for couples and students with children. She says she is unable to confirm how many units, if any, will be reserved specifically for students with families nor what the rent on the new units will be. She adds that no plans are final at this time, but says she cannot foresee a renovation plan that does not require demolition of the FSH units. 

“Sometimes it is just more cost effective in the long term to replace rather than continue to renovate,” she says. “And replacement rather than renovation will actually ensure that family housing options continue to exist for tomorrow's students.”

A number of FSH residents remain skeptical of the new plan.

Zeller is one of more than 450 people to sign the petition since it was launched in the first week of April. The petition, entitled, “Save Family Student Housing at UCSC,” was organized by the Canters and is up on Change.org. The petition is addressed to Galloway and seeks to gather 1,000 signatures.

“We decided to put pressure on Galloway and UCSC Housing to help them understand that affordable housing for families is an important part of the campus community and should be supported,” says Victoria Canter. 

The March 28 meeting was one in a series to discuss rent hikes and the future of FSH throughout March.

When UCSC administrators held a meeting to discuss rent hikes at FSH on March 16, 100 tenants from the 200 FSH units showed up to demand affordable rents. This is when administrators announced that FSH rent would be increasing another 7.5 percent from the current school year to the next.

The reasoning for increased rent on FSH is cited in UCSC’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). A plan to redevelop FSH is outlined in the Environmental Impact Report to the LRDP vol. III ch. 3. According to the report, increased rent would go into future housing costs, some of which would assist in doubling the number of units at FSH.

However, Canter says an analysis of the economic impact by FSH residents indicates that the project will have the exact opposite result, because the new units will be too expensive for student families to rent.

“[FSH] will either have hundreds of empty units or they will have to allow non-families to live in the new development,” says Canter. “Dr. Galloway confirmed at our meeting [March 28] that she was authorizing housing to rent the new units to non-families.”

Victoria adds, “They’re still going to have something called [FSH], but what’s already happening in the community is they’re renting to what are essentially roommates. They come in and say, ‘We’re partners, and this is our roommate, and this is our roommate’s partner.’ You essentially have four single people who can afford $1,600 a month or whatever it is. … On the other hand, you have single mothers who can’t afford that.

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