Podcast: Talking about housing insecurity

Science and academia need diversity. But when affordable, safe housing is scarce, housing insecurity gets in the way of studying . Students in Santa Cruz, California and Groningen, The Netherlands take it upon themselves to try and change that, along with allies in cities and universities.
Podcast: Talking about housing insecurity
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Not having a stable housing situation is stressful in any phase of life. But it’s especially hard on students. Students themselves seek to make change happen, also with allies at colleges and universities as well as municipalities. But tension is commonplace.

 Housing insecurity is a difficult package of issues that add up to not having a safe, affordable place to live. It’s especially hard on students who do not have support from parents or guardians. Students might have had grown up under challenging conditions. They might not come from a family that supports their ambitions about higher education. They might belong to a group that is underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and medicine and academia in general. They are happy to start their studies but the challenge of finding affordable housing immediately gets in the way of their ability to jump into this next chapter.

Groningen in The Netherlands is a university town. Finding affordable housing there as a student is tough homework. Nearly 9,000 kilometers away, in Santa Cruz, California finding affordable housing is tough, too, for students of the University of California Santa Cruz. Many cities and towns are like Groningen and Santa Cruz when it comes to affordable housing for students.

I looked into housing insecurity in these two cities and spoke with students about housing insecurity as well as researchers, university and city officials.

Here is a story I did about housing insecurity in the series Lab & Life for Nature Methods. Links are here and here.

Here  is a podcast with current and former students of UCSC. Abbi Cundall, Natalie Clifford, Emerald Waters, Zennon Ulyate-Crow and Nicholas Robles. A transcript is pasted toward the bottom of this page. You can also find it on streaming services such as Apple podcasts, Spotify and Google podcasts. Presented here is a bit more information from my reporting. Housing insecurity is a layered issue.

 

United States – some numbers and trends

In the United States, housing insecurity affects those especially hard who already face hurdles: People underrepresented in science and academia. Almost half of students who completed surveys experienced housing insecurity in the last 12 months, says Stacy Priniski from Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice

By their measure, housing insecurity includes the many challenges that keep people from having a safe, affordable, and consistent place to live. These challenges include missing rent or utilities payments or not being able to pay those bills in full. People need to move frequently because it wasn’t safe where they were, they have to move in with others because of financial problems or live in crowded conditions that, she says, are “beyond the expected capacity of the residence.”

“About 14% of the students who have completed our surveys were experiencing homelessness,” says Stacy Priniski. 

By definition, housing insecurity does not include homeless students or those living in their cars and experiencing other types of such housing difficulties. “About 14% of the students who have completed our surveys were experiencing homelessness,” she says. Many use the term housing insecurity to include both housing insecurity and homelessness and the researchers do two surveys, one for each situation. “But in reality, many students who have experienced homelessness in the last 12 months,” she says, which is the period of time the survey covers, have also experienced housing insecurity in the past 12 months. “In other words, there's significant overlap between the homeless population and the housing insecure population,” she says.

 What makes housing so thorny for colleges to address, says Priniski, is that “it is so tied up with regional housing shortages, zoning laws, and a host of other political and social issues.” She and her team collaborate with colleges and universities to address these issues such as through a program called Hope Impact Partnerships to collect data on students’ basic needs and study the policies at institutions and their practices and develop and action plan “to improve the basic needs ecosystem on their campuses.” Housing is a big focus area, she says, and much is underway to address it, for instance housing vouchers or, for people living in their car, setting up safe places to park.

Federal COVID relief programs that offered assistance and support to students have ended, says Leanne Davis. She was at Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice and has, since the interview, joined, as a researcher, Education Northwest, which focuses on education inequities. Eviction moratoriums have ended, too. “These changes have placed more pressure on institutions and community partners to fill the need gap,” says Davis.

The institutions they work with find that, in many communities, affordable housing options are extremely limited for postsecondary students. Students face leasing barriers, for example. This has led some of their institutional partners to explore subsidized housing partnerships to support students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

In Washington State, a pilot program underway is Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness (SSEH) Pilot. It’s with 12 public colleagues and universities. The program gives grants across the state to public community and technical colleges and baccalaureate institutions to support students experiencing homelessness and who have aged out of foster care. The legislation is also for funds for exploring ways to increase housing options for students.

Says Priniski, housing insecurity is as prevalent among STEM students as the general student population but it “can be particularly problematic for STEM students because of the importance of research experiences and internships in many STEM fields.”

Housing insecurity is as prevalent among STEM students as the general student population but it “can be particularly problematic for STEM students because of the importance of research experiences and internships in many STEM fields.”

STEM-related-activities and lab courses can be difficult to schedule and demanding course loads for STEM students make it especially hard for them to balance academic activities with work. It limits the time they can try to access housing-related services. “We know that many talented STEM students are limited in their ability to accept internships,” she says. That’s especially true for the internships that involve relocation or travel, joining research labs and professional clubs or engaging in other types of resume-building opportunities when their basic needs are not being met.

 As Davis says, “there isn't a one-size-fits all approach to solving student housing insecurity and homelessness without addressing systemic barriers that particularly impact Black, Latine, and Indigenous students, parenting students, students from low-income backgrounds and students who are part of any group that has been historically and systemically marginalized.”  Colleges won’t solve this problem alone and “it takes a community and regional approach to begin to address the ecosystem of students' basic needs.

 On the subject of housing insecurity there many resources, says Davis. Among the regions organizations she and her colleagues have worked with are  College Housing Northwest and the Jeremiah Program, which has a model to support single moms.

“There isn't a one-size-fits all approach to solving student housing insecurity and homelessness without addressing systemic barriers that particularly impact Black, Latine, and Indigenous students, parenting students, students from low-income backgrounds and students who are part of any group that has been historically and systemically marginalized,” says Leanne Davis.

The online magazine College Vine visited a different type of dorm on the USCSC campus:  Camper Park. 

Groningen, The Netherlands

Approximately 60,000 students attend Groningen’s educational institutions and about 40,000 of them live in Groningen. Which is roughly 20% of the total population in Groningen.  

Across The Netherlands, housing has long been tight. For students the situation has gotten particularly tense with protests and marches and calls for change. Student protestors took to the streets and in 2021  occupied the main building, the Academy Building of the University of Groningen. In 2021, students launched the Shelter our Students (SOS) program to offer couch-surfing to help students battling homelessness and get them temporary housing.

The university, Hanze University of Applied Sciences, the municipality and SOS agreed that more emergency and temporary housing as well as longer-terms solutions need to be built. 

 The municipality, through spokesperson of Campus Groningen Marlies Schipperheijn, offered a few comments on the situation. Campus Groningen is a collaboration between the University of Groningen, the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, the University Medical Center, the Municipality of Groningen, the Province of Groningen and Bedrijvenverenigung WEST, which is a business association.

Approximately 60,000 students attend Groningen’s educational institutions and about 40,000 of them live in Groningen. Which is roughly 20% of the total population in Groningen. Since 2011 approximately 7,000 housing units for young people were set up in Groningen, a spokesperson for the municipality says. Examples are LibertasZernike Tower and Upsilon.

From the municipality’s standpoint, there is mainly a “peak problem,” which refers to the time period between August and November. That’s when new students are searching for a place to live and graduated students have not vacated their housing.

 In this time frame between August and November, organizations set up emergency accommodations for students. Overall, by 2030, Groningen estimates it will need around 1,500 rooms for international students. This is due to the influx of more international students and because of removal temporary accommodations that had been set up for this group.

 The plan is, according to the municipality, to develop these 1,500 rooms on the Zernike Campus in coming years. 400 temporary rooms are being set up on the Zernike Campus in anticipation of the permanent development of 1,500 rooms. These rooms will also be a solution to the ‘peak problem’ given that a room can be rented to two students in that time frame, says Schipperheijn.

 In 2023, the municipality and universities were aiming for about 180 beds, says Stijn Honselaar, who studies law and public administration at University of Groningen. He was secretary of the Groningen Student Union for the 2022-2023 academic year. 120 of these were set up in a building owned by SSH Groningen, 56 of the rooms were to be shared and there were 8 single rooms. 60 other places are to be realized through rentals.

Says Honselaar, the construction of student housing at Zernike was at one point slated to be completed in 2023 and intended as temporary accommodation for international students. But the project has seen delays. “Due to problems at the municipality and SSH Groningen, this has been postponed again by a year,” he says “And, as things stand now, this timeframe, too, might prove challenging.

The new building at Zernike is planned to have 400 rooms with the option to scale up to 800 beds in the event of high demand. The concept of sharing a room is unusual in Dutch student housing, he says.

Much about the housing crisis remains under the radar, says Honselaar. According to data from Statistics Netherlands and DUO, which is the executive agency of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and if 2022 is used as a year of reference, the municipality of Groningen, including the city and surrounding towns and villages had 234,950 inhabitants as of January 1, 2022. Within city limits the population was 203,955. As of December 2021, the number of students in higher education was 63,683. The number of students living in Groningen is 42, 270.

Around 39,900 students of that total do not live with a parent or guardian. “These are the highest numbers of student inhabitants of any Dutch city beyond Amsterdam,” he says. However, in Groningen there is often not a very clear separation between housing for students and other groups of young people and “we have the youngest population of any Dutch city.” That means the market is bigger than just these students.

Many students who cannot find a room resort to temporary alternatives that aren’t registered, he says. They might stay with an acquaintance, in hotels, hostels, Airbnbs.

Many Dutch students, on the other hand, choose to stay with their parents and commute to college. And some international students cancel their plans to study here or return home, he says.

The housing challenges for students in Groningen are now less extreme than in 2017 when tents had to be set up as temporary housing for students and between 2019 and 2021 when there were the Shelter Our Students protests.

This is partly due to more strict and interventionist municipal and national policies that make it harder for investors to buy houses, says Honselaar. Also, after the 2021 events the municipality, universities, housing associations and student organizations such as the Groningen Student Union have begun to cooperate much better than previously. They practice a joint communication strategy and support the setting up of emergency housing.

Universities were actively trying to recruit more international students yet the municipality, which has no control over higher education, bears responsibility for local housing in cooperation with housing associations.

“Universities have now scaled back their foreign marketing to attract international students,” says Honselaar. The municipality of Groningen, together with the University of Groningen, Hanze UAS, housing associations and student organizations speak with one voice on this: international students who have not secured housing are advised to not arrive after August 1.

At the Groningen Student Union (GSb) this year, he says “we have not heard any stories of people who had to sleep on the streets.” Emergency accommodations were not fully occupied last year either. “That said, the whole situation creates a lot of stress among especially international students,” he says. And there is, of course, “a big gray area between sleeping on the street and finding a comfortable home of one's own.”

In the past two decades, “research universities have largely switched from Dutch to English as the language of instruction,” says Stijn Honselaar and in a much more extensive way than in any other non-English-speaking European country. “This makes The Netherlands very attractive as a relatively affordable option for international students.” 

Studying in The Netherlands

In The Netherlands, there are different types of universities: research universities and universities of applied sciences. Admissions are not competitive. Universities do not provide housing and finding a room is the student's own responsibility. Dorms, as they exist in the US, do not exist in the Netherlands and students do not live on university ‘campus’ grounds.

For admission, one needs high school courses that are on par with a university program, and this is true also for non-Dutch students from other European Union countries. And one has to take an English language test. According to EU law, all EU citizens must be treated equally, he says. If someone has obtained the right to higher education, they are automatically  admitted in The Netherlands. “As a result, institutions have little direct control over which students and how many of them are admitted, he says.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science can grant permission to specific local programs to allow selective admissions. Student unions are, he says, “passionate supporters of an accessible university without selection, but internationalization certainly creates new challenges in that respect.”

In the past few decades, public institutions have become increasingly corporate, he says. Dutch universities have wanted to expand their student numbers and their international reputation. But this, combined with less government spending per student and an aging population has incentivized initiatives aimed at attracting more students, which means both talent and tuition from abroad.

In the past two decades, “research universities have largely switched from Dutch to English as the language of instruction,” he says, and in a much more extensive way than in any other non-English-speaking European country. “This makes The Netherlands very attractive as a relatively affordable option for international students,” he says. The University of Groningen alone saw an increase from 28,000 to 38,000 students within a decade mostly due to applications from abroad.

In Honselaar’s view, the discussion about the housing crisis is closely linked to the discussion about internationalization and the accessibility of higher education for Dutch students.

Many political parties want more focus on the Dutch language and language skills, and fewer English-taught courses. It’s becasue higher education is often offered in English that The Netherlands is so accessible to foreign students. Studying here is often more affordable than studying in the US, UK and other countries, he says. “The growth in the number of students is greater than what cities can currently accommodate,” he says.

 All of these factors, says Stijn Honselaar,“make a toxic cocktail that causes all sorts of other distressing problems for students.”

The off-campus norm

Most students in Groningen live in regular houses with other students, says Honselaar. These are usually situations in which roommates share the rent or people might rent a place of their own or they might live with their parents. Universities make arrangements such as to offer temporary housing specifically for special groups such as exchange students and PhD candidates from abroad. “But this is far too little to accommodate all of them,” he says.

Many international students face discrimination in the Dutch housing market, he says. Most students live in houses that have a landlord, in 80% of the cases that’s a house owned by one person as opposed to housing associations. Often, in these situations, there is “a policy that only Dutch speakers are welcome to live there or they require a physical introduction.”

More and more student houses are being converted into studios. The Dutch social security system regulates and subsidizes rent for low-income people. Most students have little income or assets and thus fall into that low-income category. But “student rooms are excluded from that subsidy scheme,” he says. As a result, many landlords convert their student houses into several independent studios. This lets them charge more rent because the government, through allowances, pays part of the rent.

Smaller families, immigration, and a housing market that has largely been liberalized and that has given more fiscal benefits for homeowners and investors have led to an overall housing crisis, he says.

Due to legal and political issues and a lack of space in a small country, The Netherlands has “far too few homes” under construction. Mortgage rules and social housing have become more strict. This leads to an acute housing shortage and for students “sky-high prices that ordinary people cannot afford without rich parents.” All of these factors, says Honselaar, “make a toxic cocktail that causes all sorts of other distressing problems for students.”

  

 

An illustration of a  cozy bedroom in green hues with a window and a night-stand.

(CandO_Designs / Getty Images)

Podcast transcript

Note: These podcasts are produced to be heard. If you can, please tune in. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and there’s a human editor. But a transcript may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

 Abbi Cundall

I think I read a statistic, when I was doing, working on this, that something like a third of the reasons why people drop out of school is due to housing insecurity. Because they can either go to school, or eat.

Vivien

That’s Abbi Cundall talking about housing insecurity. Hi and welcome to Conversations with scientists, I’m Vivien Marx. I do these podcasts as a way to share more of what I find out in my journalism travels. And today the conversation is with students and people who have recently graduated. Some of them are scientists to be. Others are studying politics or economics or nursing. What connects them all is their student and life experiences, their thoughts and activism related to housing and housing insecurity, which is today’s theme.

I did a story for Nature Methods on housing insecurity and there’s a blog post, too. The links are in the show transcript.  

Science and academia need diversity. That’s easy to say and hard to turn into practice just as it is when you say society needs diversity. Many researchers are active in the way they help to make science more diverse, more equitable and inclusive. Today, this podcast is about what some students are doing to change things related to housing for students and for non-students, too.

What does diversity have to do with housing insecurity? A lot. One aspect about diversity, equity and inclusion is about making it easier for everyone to gain access to education and training if they choose that path. They might apply to a college or a university. Applying can be the start of a career in science, technology, engineering and many other fields.

First your application needs to get your accepted into a college or university. If you are accepted, then you can celebrate. And right after that, you need to start focusing on studies, how to finance that and organize your life. And that includes housing. Perhaps a student lands student housing and has parents or guardians who help to pay for that. Not everyone can go that route.

Others need affordable housing and just can’t find it. That’s when housing insecurity gets in the way of their studies.

As Dr Stacy Priniski from the Hope Center for College Community and Justice at Temple University mentioned to me: three in five students who completed their surveys were experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity and/or homelessness. The team there did a large-scale survey and had input and data from 500,000 students.

Almost half of students who have completed the surveys had experienced housing insecurity in the last 12 months. The number is even higher, she says, when you draw in more basic needs such as access to childcare, transportation, technology and physical and mental healthcare. As she phrases it, this figure has been “remarkably and tragically stable” that almost half of students who have completed the surveys had experienced housing insecurity in the last 12 months.

Housing insecurity is a bundle of different factors that all mean one does not have a safe, affordable, constant place to live. It’s tiring, it’s difficult. People might not have enough money and miss paying rent some months or miss paying their utility bill. Or people live in over-crowded or unsafe conditions.

For the researchers, strictly speaking housing insecurity does not exactly including homelessness or students living in their car. Around 14% of students who completed their surveys were experiencing homelessness. In many instances, though, housing insecurity and homelessness are grouped together as two sides of a similar problem. In today’s episode you will hear students talk about all of this.

For students, as Leanne Davis says, who was also at Temple University and is now a researcher at the non-profit Education Northwest that focuses on educational inequities, Leanne Davis explains, institutions —the colleges and universities —the Temple University team has worked with, find that affordable housing options for students are “extremely limited for postsecondary students.

There are all sorts of hurdles such as leasing barriers for students. There are systemic barriers, too, which means it affects certain people more and in the US that would be Black, Latino, Latina, Indigenous students and students who belong to a group that is traditionally marginalized. Housing insecurity affects them. Colleges and universities won’t be able to solve this problem on their own, she says. It takes community and a regional approach to address the ecosystem of students’ basic needs.

I should add that this podcast is about students in the United States but I also interviewed students in Groningen in The Netherlands and campus and city officials, too. There’s more about that in the blog post. Groningen students face issues of housing insecurity. And that is true for many university cities and towns in Europe.

Ok back to the US and back to Abbi Cundall. When she was a student at University of California Santa Cruz, Abbi Cundall was involved in an organization called CARE, a community organization focused on homelessness in Santa Cruz. And she was a co-founder and co-president of the Slug Shelter. She and Connor Kensok wanted to help fellow students who were experiencing insecurity, including homelessness. Affordable housing is hard to come by in Santa Cruz and on-campus housing is limited.

Slug Shelter. I should explain since you might wonder about the name, banana slug are animals and they are the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz campus.

Also I just wanted to apologize for the audio quality of my conversation with Abbi Cundall. I was traveling and on an unstable internet connection and Abbi Cundall was on her cell phone. She was also in the middle of an electricity outage in San Jose where I reached her. Here’s Abbi Cundall.

Abbi Cundall [6:15]

We weren’t expecting this, we got about 45 minutes warning and it’s been out for a few days

Vivien

Oh I’m so sorry that stinks

Abbi Cundall

Yeah, so we were co directors of a club on campus called CARE, Community Aid and Resources. That had been an established club at UC Santa Cruz for a few years, at least, since I was a freshman anyway. And then, when COVID hit, all of the things that we were doing in that club, were really face-to-face like we we were doing outreach for the homeless population.  So and then we weren't allowed to do that anymore, because of COVID. And so, the co director, the director, and I, his name is Connor, he found, I think it was the Bruin House down in Southern California. And I'm pretty sure that was UCLA, I want to say, that has the Bruin Shelter, something like that. And that it was similar concept. So students created a shelter for students experiencing homelessness. And it was completely student run. And he found it online.

And he was like, ‘Hey, we should look into doing this.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, why not.’ We looked at it, we were hoping we could get it up and running. But unfortunately, we couldn't find a space for the shelter. So by the time I graduated, and could no longer be part of the club, just because, you know, it's a club for students. So once I graduated, I had to pass it on to the next director, who we interviewed and chose to help with the project. They didn't find a space so they've now changed it I don't remember the name of it now.

Vivien

It appears that the shelter never did get established at UCSC. Although the university, it seems, wasn’t in principle against it. You will hear more about this later in this podcast, too. Here’s Abbi Cundall talking about the conversations they had with UCSC leadership.

Abbi Cundall

There was a little bit of pushback as far as having the shelter on campus property. I don't think that it was that they didn't want the shelter to happen at all.

Might have been a policy thing. In some of the meetings that I had, I had met with, I think, thinking Assistant Dean. Honestly it's been, two, three years now, so I could be wrong, but we met with one of the higher ups on on the board. And they did say that they felt that UC Santa Cruz was doing as much as they could to help students in need, and didn't want to take away from any of the are there other programs.

Vivien

This is an issue I came across in my reporting, also for example in The Netherlands. Universities want to grow, accept more students and housing resources don’t increase to be in step with those larger student numbers.

US colleges and universities, and I am just adding this because this is not typical around the world, US colleges and universities often offer on-campus housing for students, which is not free. But having student housing does not mean that automatically every student is allocated housing. When she started at UCSC, Abbi Cundall says there was a guarantee of housing for freshmen and that changed. 

Abbi Cundall

When I was a freshman, or actually when I was accepted to the University, housing guarantees for first and second year students. By the time I was a sophomore, that incoming freshmen only had a one year given a case of housing. The school was accepting more students, and they did a ton of the housing to support all of the students and because they're just surrounded by mountains and forests, there wasn't really a space to expand into and it’s  took quite protected national forest.

Vivien

UCSC offers classic student housing, such as dorm rooms. And they also offer something called Camper Park, which is cheaper than a dorm room. On the web site it’s called a “unique campus housing option.”

It’s a 42-space camper park for continuing undergraduate students so it’s not for students who have just been admitted or people who have just transferred to the school.

It’s sort of like on a campground. Trailers are provided and have a bed, a small kitchen and there is a community building with restrooms, showers, laundry and a study room. A link is in the show notes and a video with a tour. It was smaller when Abbi Cundall was at UCSC and Camper Park has grown from just a few campers.

Abbi Cundall

That had been established long before I was a student there. And they are I think it's about 10 campers, although I never actually visited the space. And they're kind of, you know, immovable now there. I think they may have been delegated through the school, though. I don't know that it was a student-run organization. If it started that way, maybe, but I think that it was now through school, they delegated those. And then there's only, you know, 10, maybe 20 for students. And that's just not enough for their needs.

Vivien

Housing insecurity is dreadful. Not knowing where you are going to live, needing to move all the time, not feeling safe, if you are somewhere that is affordable. All these things get in the way of studying.

 Abbi Cundall

So I was lucky enough, I never experienced housing  insecurity personally, but I did have friends, and acquaintances, and you know, classmates who did, and I heard about their stories. Ultimately, it’s, you know, one of those things where you go into this major, academically, very prestigious school, and then you're stuck with housing insecurity.

Which, that I think I read a statistic, when I was doing, working on this, that something like a third of the reasons why people drop out of school is due to housing insecurity. Because they can either go to school, or eat, or, you know, stay in a home, or anything like that, and they just can't afford to go to school anymore.

So now they're out however much they got in loans, on top of, you know, not being able to further your career, or anything like that, and it affects your education. You know, you're coming to class, maybe hungry, or tired, because you haven't had a good night's sleep, you can't study very well, because you don't have a place to study. You know, every night, you're just worried about where your'e going to stay. And that takes a huge toll on anyone, and especially students who are trying to dedicate their time and energy to go into school and learning.

Vivien

Housing insecurity includes unsafe conditions.

Abbi Cundall

And as far as the unsafe, I did have one person that I knew who was staying in an unsafe housing situation that it was with an ex-partner who was, I'm not sure if he was physically abusive, or just emotionally, but it was very unsafe to stay there. She couldn't go anywhere else.

Vivien

Abbi Cundall landed a job in Crescent City as an EMT with an ambulance company. And when I spoke to her she was applying to nursing schools.

Abbi Cundall

Right now as far as volunteering, and I'm working with the Del Mar Reeves Library, doing some tutoring there. Until hopefully, after nursing school, I'll be working with underserved populations and hopefully nursing abroad with other communities that need it.

Vivien

Word got out when Abbi Cundall worked, while a UCSC student on homelessness in Santa Cruz as well as homelessness and housing insecurity among fellow students. 

Abbi Cundall

Even before the shelter started, word got out. And we were having students come to us and asked if we were open for student housing, before we even had a face. So the need is still there. For students, and you know, even for just the general public.

The shelter itself would have been only for students. But the club beforehand, the CARE club that I had been part of, that for outreach to the homeless population in Santa Cruz in general. So we would have drives every , we were on a quarter system, we would have drives throughout the quarter, raising money.

And then, at the end of each quarter, we would have a booth next to one of the other volunteer organizations in the area who provided food to the homeless, next to them and give out whatever supplies we had collected throughout the quarter.

I'm not sure if you know, but actually, the Santa Cruz area had a very large homeless population for its house population. And that's because a lot of the San Jose homeless were given a Greyhound, a one-way Greyhound ticket and told to go to Santa Cruz, and then they kind of got stuck there.

Vivien

Homelessness for students and for the general population is ugly and difficult.

In addition to Abbi Cundall I reached out to some current UCSC students, that was in the summer and it’s taken me a moment to produce this. You will meet them now. Some of them are members of the Student Housing Coalition that advocates for solutions related to housing. 

Here’s Natalie Clifford. She showed me her dorm room, which you can’t see since this is a podcast and that might be a bit too private anyway to show it but, you can hear the tour of her dorm room, which she shares with four other students.

Natalie Clifford [16.55]

My name is Natalie, and I'm a proposed biology major. So I haven't I haven't declared my major formally. But yeah, freshman.

Right now I'm in the summer Edge program and it's Merrill, Merrill dorms.   I am in the dorms right now.

So actually, I'm a freshman here. So this is actually my first like college experience. So this is like basically where you take it's basically an accelerated quarter. Like, where you take classes and you get some credits before going into my first quite actual quarter, which would be in the fall as a freshman. So this is more like getting like an edge otherwise called Summer edge on like college.

I’m in the dorms right now, do you want to see it?

Vivien

Oh, wow. Oh, cool. Oh,  that wall color

Natalie Clifford

do want to see it? It's quintuple. So it's like, here's my bed. Here's like bunk beds. And then another bed and another bunk bed. So five people.

Vivien (on tape)

It’s tight, there’s a window over there.

Natalie Clifford

That's actually a really beautiful, beautiful view. Everyone has a desk. Everyone has a wardrobe unit. Here's my desk.

Vivien

Got it. Wow, that is not a lot of space

Natalie Clifford

So basically, this room right here used to be a common room, like a lounge area for the floor. But what happened was we ran out of rooms. So they had to make this into a room with five people. We're actually very fortunate to have this room, because we actually do have more square footage than the average student.

Vivien

Another person on the call is Emerald Waters.

Emerald Waters

I’m an economics major. I’ll be starting my fourth year.

Vivien

When you are accepted to a university you do not automatically get an offer related to housing. At UCSC that leads to a need to look off campus for housing in many cases. Here’s Emerald Waters.

Emerald Waters    [18:50]

I think, for most people, you are not necessarily given an option. You are either, your application is accepted, you're on priority, and then you get your options. But the majority of people get sent to a waitlist. And then after a few months, they're then told whether or not there's space for them. So most people need to look off campus to find housing.

They have certain priority groups. So there's different groups of students that are allowed to pick their room first. And I think international students are part of that. But I don't believe out-of-state students are. So they would be expected to find off campus housing.

Most housing options are housing for families, so multiple bedrooms that you need to find multiple people to room with you. There's very, very few one bedroom or two bedroom apartments.

Vivien

Housing insecurity is hurdle for students in many ways, it makes it hard to study and it’s like a cloud hanging over you, it takes a toll on your mental health, too. Emerald Waters explains.

Emerald Waters

For me, personally, it really takes a toll on my ability to complete my classes and keep them at the grades that I want to complete them with. I think the most stressful time was my sophomore year, it was right as we were switching away from from COVID. And going back to in person classes, and I had to come back to campus, but it was in the middle of the year. So I lost all priority status. And they put me on the waitlist. And I didn't have housing until three days before the first day of class.

Vivien

I wondered if these students turned to their professors for help with housing challenges. Let me add here that Emerald Waters is a Renaissance scholar at UCSC, she explains what that means.

Emerald Waters

Not in my experience I haven’t had professors help with housing. There’s a program called Renaissance scholars that I’m a a part of. They offer an option that I could communicate with. But I think so many Renaissance Scholars were in the same position as me, that they didn’t have time to get back to my email.

The Renaissance scholars it’s mostly students who have experienced homelessness in the past or have had difficult childhood. they get into the Renaissance Scholars Program. And then we're given like priority housing status, and just some more guidance on campus to help us navigate.

So I qualify for Renaissance scholar, because I am considered an independent student, so I don't have any contact with either of my parents. It was a very, my childhood was it I was in a very abusive situation. And so when I was 17, I had to I was kind of like a runaway youth. And so because I don't have access to my parents, it blocks me in so many different ways for financial aid and All these things that require parental support are parental information.

Vivien

That sucks so much. But I really, you should be proud that you've had the strength to remove yourself from that. That's awesome. Thank you. That's really, really hard. And I guess heartening also for people who are in that situation? You know what to do about this? Yeah, I see. So you're stuck, I guess you could say legally. But also, the forms don't really have the little block, you know, boxes in there that you can tick that apply to you. I got it.

Emerald Waters

exactly.

Vivien

Natalie Clifford shares a bit more about her background

Natalie Clifford [22:20]

I am an considered out of state student. I'm from originally from Massachusetts. So during the admissions process, I was considered out of state and, but I'm now a legal resident of California, because my dad actually lives in California and has for the past, like 10 years. And he paid child support.

So I was able, there was like a clause and like, one of the, one of the various like, articles and whatever that like, allowed me to become automatically a California resident. So that's very great for me, because, like admission, or sorry, tuition would be considered and state so very, very happy for that. But yeah, I mean, my parents are divorced, separated, like, my dad lives in California for most of my life, and my mom lives with me in Massachusetts.

Well, originally, Indiana, but Massachusetts. Afterwards, I moved there. So but I do have a good relationship with both of them, which I'm very, I'm very fortunate to have.

Vivien

The difference between in-state and out-of state tuition is a large one so this helps her for her college years.

Another person in this circle of students is Zennon Ulyate-Crow, he and Emerald Waters and another person on this call Nicolas Robles are members of the Student Housing Coalition, which works on issues of student housing also housing insecurity. Zennon Ulyate-Crow worked on legislation related to housing. 

Zennon Ulyate-Crow 923:50]

My name is Zennon Ulyate-Crow. He/him pronouns  hird year at UC Santa Cruz. And I founded the UCSC Student Housing Coalition I guess two years ago. 

Vivien (on tape)

And your major I think somebody told me, but I'm forgetting it now.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

politics.

Vivien

Awesome. We need that, I already said we need all of your majors, you know, economics and biology. And thanks. And I think, is it correct to say that you were instrumental or helpful or whatever word on getting? What's SB 886 passed?

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

So I actually wrote SB-886 pitched it to people and then ended up getting it to become a thing and then advocated and helped advocate for it throughout the legislative process.

There are some laws in California that were passed with good intent but have been kind of appropriated by NIMBYs and other folks looking to stop students and have been basically appropriated and just ultimately used as tools of stopping students rather than their original intentions.

And so

Vivien

just to jump in for those who might be if you guys are okay with the podcast, so NIMBY, not in my backyard for the Dutch people who might be listening or whoeve . Not in my backyard in my backyard is this idea: We love the idea of student housing just not close to where we live.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

Exactly, exactly. And, you know, probably should have thought that when you bought your home next to the university, but who am I to say. So basically what 886 did is it kind of aligns already existing plans that have to go through certain environmental mitigations, where previously, they had to kind of double up those plans and redo the exact same plan for both at the large-scale planning level. And then also, each individual project that was built under the large scale planning level.

And so really, it was just about saying, like, once you've done the large scale scale-level planning, you don't have to also do it again, for the project-base level. And so the thing I was talking about in terms of like the laws being abused is that. Each time a project has to go undergo an environmental review in California, any person, no matter who the can be organizations, it could be individuals who be whatever, has the right to basically sue and say that the report that was commissioned was inadequate, whether or not it was inadequate or not. So it's and it's typically just a thing that ends up putting projects in the courts for three to five years.

Vivien

And things don't get built, and students don't get beds and all of that stuff. So now cue the cheesy. I don't know. 1960s, television music, all is great.

Zennon Ulyate-Craw

No, no, we weren't, you know, we still have a lot of work to do on it, we sit, we still need to go back and actually do some cleanup on the legislation. Because there are some things that some amendments we had to take during committee that ended up making it a lot harder to actually utilize them that we would like so there's still more work to be done.

But it really was looking at I mean, UC Santa Cruz, we had a project called Student Housing West that was approved and ready to go in 2019. And it's been in lawsuits ever since. And it's still in lawsuits. And phase one of that which was 240 units of beds for graduate students, family beds for graduate students. So these are family units that was supposed to open this year. But it's not and it hasn't even begun breaking ground. And it's still in the lawsuits. And you know, that's the talking about Santa Cruz, where we have that we are now the most expensive place to live in the country. And here's something that would have been 240 units for graduate students that have families. And because people that live near the university didn't want the university to expand. We're not getting that anymore.

Vivien (on tape)

and I'll ask you some more. What was the note number in this podcast that I was just listening to  Gimme Shelter? One where they were talking? I think it was one in 20. University of California students have bouts of homelessness have those numbers that they have in that podcast? Is that about accurate?

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

Actually it's higher at UC Santa Cruz specifically, we have the highest rate out of all this system.

Vivien

I wondered what types of solutions the Student housing Coalition was tinkering with. It sounded to me like a tough situation overall but maybe there are short-term fixes.

Emerald Waters [2845]

There could be short term solutions to get people in housing like that, or short term solutions to help people who are currently unhoused live in maybe a safer environment. But really, we just think we need to build more housing. And we need to have laws that allow us to build more housing, because across California, there are several, it gets very complicated. There's several different laws for different reasons that make it very difficult for developers who want to build to allow them to build those units.

Vivien

A safe place to live is hard to come by. Unsafe housing conditions are also part of housing insecurity.

Emerald Waters

There could be short term solutions to get people in housing like that, or short term solutions to help people who are currently unhoused live in maybe a safer environment. But really, we just think we need to build more housing. And we need to have laws that allow us to build more housing, because across California, there are several, it gets very complicated. There's several different laws for different reasons that make it very difficult for developers who want to build to allow them to build those units.

Vivien

I mean, leave as in you, your teddy bear and your tea kettle can stay there but you have to leave or you actually have to physically move.

Emerald Waters

You get to keep your belongings there, but you are not allowed to be on campus for that month.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow [30:20]

And the university does allow people to stay over the breaks in certain types in certain housings. But it's really complicated, because obviously, you're not allowed to move your stuff, and you still would have to be moved to a different location for a very small period of time. And then also, I think they charge you extra. If you are going to be living on campus, even though you're already paying for your housing contract throughout the entire school year.

Emerald Waters [30.45]

Yeah, yeah. So the Renaissance Scholars, we used to be told guaranteed housing, you get to come to school, live here, I got here, they said, Oh, nevermind. And for December, we all get very nervous around December, because we don't know where we're going to live. And so they said, Oh, we made a deal with, you know, certain hotels, and so we get reduced rates, but we still have to pay similar to a hotel rate for the month. We're not allowed to be on campus. But for spring break, we are.

Vivien

You're still keen on studying, Natalie are you gonna stay you're gonna leave?

Natalie Clifford

I'm kind of thinking about leaving now. I'm just kidding. But yeah, I mean, I'm I'm not very like, obviously, I don't have a lot of experience yet as a freshman. But yeah, yeah. Does sound really crazy.

Vivien

Laws make a difference for housing insecurity. New housing will make a difference, too. One of the student housing options at UCSC is called Camper Park, Abbi Cundall had talked about this earlier in this podcast, here’s Zennon Ulyate-Crow.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow [32:05]

You brought up the Camper Park earlier, because actually, the Camper Park was an initiative that was started by students because students wanted it. And because it was something that very much was actually something that was seen as an appealing kind of thing for students to have access to, because the rental rates of the camper Park are extremely cheap compared to the rest of campus, it's,

Vivien

you don't have to bring your own camper, right, it's there, or you do have to bring your own,

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

They used to have you bring your own camper, but now there are permanent campers that are situated there. And so the interesting thing is talking about like short term solutions, long term solutions is one thing that we've been discussing a lot is safe parking. And really, one of the hardest things is a lot of students are experiencing vehicular homelessness. And so what that looks like is that doesn't necessarily look like you know, 24 hours, seven days a week, they're living out of their vehicle.

But it looks like a student might live with their parents at home on the weekends. And they have classes on a Tuesday and a Thursday. And you know, it's maybe 150 miles to get back to their home. And so what they'll do is they'll come to Santa Cruz, go to a class for a day, sleep in their vehicle for two nights, and then go to the class the next day, and then drive back. And so safe parking sites is basically the idea that just having a safe space with access to Wi Fi, water, electricity, showers, food, and knowing you're not going to get harassed at night, by either people coming out to give you a parking ticket, or by people who are just out and about.

I was reading experience from a student that was talking about how they words, you know, sleeping in their vehicle, and then at like, 3am I got a rap on their door. And then the person who rapped on the door walked away, but they never went back to sleep. Because then they spent the rest of the night terrified of like, well who is this person that knocked on my door? And so having

Vivien

Scary, it's scary. I did and I have that in my story that I've been writing at Long Beach City College actually has the safe parking thing. And I was like wow, that's so so I guess you enter and then you can use the showers in the restrooms but you can't exit after 11 or something like that. So I guess it's monitored in some way.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

Long Beach program is tricky as well. Because Long Beach so so what UC Santa Cruz does is UC Santa Cruz does offer assistance to put students up in hotel rooms for up to a month and they will they will do that while they try and connect you to permanent housing.

And that can work for some people that really are in that need for finding that permanent housing but a that permanent housing is not going to be a affordable for students, especially for lessons are experiencing experiencing homelessness. And then be what students need are actually doesn't necessarily mean that students don't want to live out of their vehicles. And I think that's kind of like a hard thing to unpack. But there are actually a lot of students that make a very conscious choice that this is the best for my situation right now.

And they're not going to be able to afford to move it into whatever place the university is going to provide them after that 30-day hotel stay, or they're not going to be able to, you know, be able to get back home, because where are they going to park their car if they're on campus, because now we can't have on campus parking permits. And on campus parking permits are like 600 bucks, 700 bucks.

Vivien

So a semester or a year, a year. Okay, but still, yikes.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

And so, so the essentially, the point being, though, is that, like the university, when you're talking about safe parking, they offer the say, we have this hotel program, we have programs to get people permanently housed. But that ignores the reality that for some people, maybe it actually is a better choice for them in their lives to have that safe parking. And I think it's important that we meet people where their needs are. And we be making sure that for people that do have to feel the need to sleep in their vehicles, there are people who are provided with all the wraparound services, and amenities that you would expect. If you were a university student.

Natalie Clifford [36:00]

I just moved here. And so like, just the things that I've heard from the people around me living in the dorms currently as a freshman is that like right now, in the Merrill dorms, there's been a lot of like, changes recently of like, trying to, like cram people in almost into the dorms. Like, for example. Um, like I said before, the place I'm in right now is a quintuple, which used to be the common room for the floor. So now we don't actually have the floor common room, we just have like this giant room with that fits five people.

And also, there are no doubles. Or there's like, I think only like a couple of doubles on our floor. Now there's only singles and triples. And the reason why they have singles and not like doubles is because they can't fit a desk, a wardrobe, and or two desks, two wardrobes into beds into the space of a single, but they have a large triple, and a normal size triple, which rumor has it used to be so that The regular size triple used to be the double that they just crammed three beds into now. And then the large triple is now still a triple. So there's two types of triples, and then singles and quints.

Vivien

Universities and colleges not just in California are keen on more students and they are growing. But it’s difficult to make provisions for that increase in student numbers.

Natalie Clifford

They want more people to come in. And so they're allowing more people to come in. But as a result, the things set in place for the people who are here in the housing has greatly decreased, like our quality of life almost.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

And to add on as well, too, and I was talking about earlier with the dorms. So I actually lived in Merrill dorms, my first year, and there were septuples on our floor, so we no longer had any lounge spaces. Seven people in a room is just seven bunk beds, with desks below, I think there was also eight-tuples on the floor below me. And that's, by the way, with no increase in bathroom facilities, we had two stalls for about 35 people on our floor. So it was it was it was a little bit brutal, to say the least.

But one of the three things that deprive context on a lot of this and why the university has chosen to go this route of packing more people in the rooms is the university is kind of being pulled from two directions when it comes to these different things. So there's statewide, the legislature and the governor set enrollment increase targets for the universities. And so the universities have to meet those enrollment and increase targets, which is a great thing, because we're providing access to opportunity for all sorts of students that are made, you know, providing a gateway to generational wealth and to uplifting people out of poverty in the greatest public education system in the world. You know, like seriously, UC and community College is just an incredible system.

And so we want to be promoting those goals. But at the same point, the actual the local city, and the city government has consistently consistently throughout the year has been in lawsuits with the University over its proposed enrollment growth. And this is since it's founded has been in these lawsuits.

Vivien

A common room is important,  I also asked the students about the Slug Shelter the project that Abbi Cundall had worked on with Conor Kensok that you heard about earlier in this podcast episode.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow [39:50]

Yeah, so it was a separate initiative that was started by a few students a few years back. And they a lot of the students have since graduated. But they spent a lot of time working on this. And essentially, they had worked with a local homeless services provider that was relocating a mobile unit, but they had of about eight beds, just a mobile mobile trailer that was used for services. And so they had reached out and talked with this affordable housing provider, and the affordable housing provider was willing to give it to them so that they could put on the university and have a kind of a Slug Shelter for folks on the university for people that are living experiencing homelessness.

But the university itself stopped that. So the university, even though it was a free, you know, free site, it wouldn't have costed the money to get the actual building, it would have just sat in the parking lot, and would have been a resource. But after a lot of persistent lobbying to get the university to accept it, they wouldn't accept it for all the same reasons I was talking about earlier with with what they're talking about for the 30 day hotel stay. And in general, it's probably just bad PR for the university to say yes, we need to have a homeless shelter on our campus for students.

Vivien

In Groningen in The Netherlands I heard about housing insecurity. A student explained that there has been an effort underway to internationalize Dutch universities. More students have arrived also many foreign students ND people are getting stuck without housing. The city and the university have been trying to change matters but there too projects have been delayed. Back to Santa Cruz and Zennon Ulyate-Crow

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

so the basically the city's perspective is that the university shouldn't expand unless it can house 100% of new students. And so there was a lawsuit about this back in 2008.

And ultimately, the university lost the lawsuit now and basically was told that for every new enrollment, you have to add a new bed, you don't have to add a new unit, you have to add a new bed.

And so they added more beds, to the existing rooms. And then, on top of all of this is that we haven't had I mean, we haven't we have an expansion project that's going to be coming online next year. But it's a smaller expansion.

It's kind of utilizing already existing spaces with new units, but it's not that large scale. We haven't had a new college built since 2002, or 2003. And that one project, I was talking about Student Housing West, the university basically put all of their eggs in one basket, student housing West would increase the amount of on campus housing by 25%. Just student housing was just this one project. And so

Vivien

which is good news, but if it stopped then it's bad news. Wow.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow

Exactly. And so it's been a double-edged sword where it's, I guess, triple edged sword where you've got the state pushing for enrollment growth, the city saying if you want to enroll more people, you have to house 100% of them, and then individuals within the community being able to say actually, we don't even want any new housing at all, and this all comes into this final warped awfulness that becomes UC Santa Cruz.

Vivien

And I guess, you know, I want to be conscious of the fact that I guess, you know, people from different backgrounds, let's say someone with the background like Emerald has, or people of color are single parents, or LGBTQ. You know, it's just like you have enough hurdles already. And then you just have more of those right, living in very close cramped quarters is not great for mental health. Right. And I've no mental health professional.

Emerald Waters

Yeah, I just wanted to add that there's, you know, an additional problem. So let's say there's some extra housing downtown that you want to get.  As a student who's, you know, in their 20s or younger, probably doesn't have very great credit score, because we haven't had credit cards for very long. They require a great credit score, but many of them don't allow you to have a co-signer. So it's basically a way to say no students.

Vivien

Renting as a student is hard for many reasons, especially if, say you have not had credit for a long time or your credit score is bad.

Housing insecurity creates all sorts of challenges for students and it’s just not a way to create an environment for studying especially for people who had a difficult time to even get to a college or university because they have faces homelessness themselves or challenging situations at home.

Another person was also part of this call is Nicolas Robles.

Nicolas Robles [44:35]

So I'm going on to my third year, and I'm studying Environmental Studies and Sociology.

I'm also part of the UCSC Student Housing Coalition, the Communications chair. And there's been a lot of mental toll is on students as well with housing and just dealing with the situation as well.

So one thing that I've seen is that when there was a lack of housing for the moving-on years or like the oncoming years. There's also a lot of students who just gave up on this university and coming into this university as well.

Like, I remember some of my co-workers, just saying that they were going to, go to a different college, back in their hometown, because they were they're not locals. So they, they said what they were, they did what they were going to say. And they said they did just stay back in their local towns. And that's really, it's really sad to see because having that barrier of housing separate all of this opportunity that you've worked so hard to earn is just, it's really sad.

Vivien

I think that's kind of the nuanced thing, though, too, right. It's not that people are, it's not dramatic. It's more like the successive hurdles that just wear you down

Nicolas Robles

Yeah, 100% Because there's like that whole US pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality of you'll get through it and you you're the one who has to get through it but honestly, that's not really realistic for a lot of students and if they're already dealing with housing insecurity and on top of that, like getting a simulated with the new living situations that they have, and this whole like new local culture, it's it's a lot of hurdles, like you're saying that it will wear you down real quick if, if it's just, you're not used to it.

Vivien

That was Conversations with scientists, today conversation was with students and former students who shared their experiences, thoughts and their activism about housing insecurity. The people in today’s podcast episode are Abbi Cundall, Natalie Clifford, Emerald Waters, Zennon Ulyate-Crow and Nicolas Robles 

The music in this episode is Nonsense by Raw licensed from artist.io

And I will just add because there’s confusion about these things sometimes. Nobody paid to be in this podcast, this is independent journalism that I produce in my living-room, I’m Vivien Marx. Thanks for listening.

 

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