With a beautiful view of the ocean, sunny weather and a campus within walking distance, it is no surprise that thousands of UCSB students crowd into Isla Vista each year like clowns into a circus car. However, these luxuries do come at a price – literally. Although the national housing market continues to plummet, housing in Isla Vista continues to become costly, with the average monthly rate for a two-bedroom apartment having risen over $200 from 2006-07 to 2007-08. As students begin their housing quests this month, many are gradually becoming aware of this trend.
Sky High Prices in Flight
According to UCSB Community Housing Office Manager Roane Akchurin, the January rush for housing started earlier and heavier than normal this year.
“It is based on supply and demand, and the January craze is those bigger apartments,” Akchurin said.
In I.V., the monthly rental average for a two-bedroom unit based on 214 listings was $2,263 for 2007-08. However, in 2006-07, the monthly rental average for a two-bedroom unit was $2,022 based on 146 listings – an average jump of $241.
St. George and Associates Manager Terri Bailey said the high demand for I.V. housing keeps the rent rising. She said her company owns all its properties – although some are partnerships – and that it tries to remodel often and add amenities to its available housing to make the costs more appealing.
However, Isla Vista Tenants Union Chairman Gerson Sorto said that, while he approves of increased housing quality, he still believes many I.V. apartments are overpriced. Sorto, a fourth-year political science major, also said these price rises were difficult to curb.
“It’s difficult when landlords have so much power,” Sorto said. “They have to adhere to certain standards, but they’re not that strict.”
With regards to UCSB, Sorto said he would like to see the university put pressure on landlords to keep prices lower. He said the high rents discourage low-income students from attending UCSB.
Yet, UCSB Housing and Residential Services Executive Director Wilfred Brown said private renting is just that: private.
“It’s not like the university can go in there and tell the landlords what to price their property,” Brown said.
Additionally, Meridian Group Management Co. President Robert Kooyman said his company manages about 220 units in I.V. for a large variety of private owners, so it is not always the managers in charge of price raises.
“People think the managing company makes all the rules, but a lot of it is the owners,” Kooyman said.
As for UCSB, the university is not entirely dissolved from I.V. It owns properties such as I.V. Theater and Embarcadero Hall and will lease land to the new Isla Vista Foot Patrol Office on 6504 Trigo Road. The university is also funding half of the I.V. Master Plan, which will pay for remodeled storefronts, multi-story buildings and bike loops, as well as renovated sidewalks and parks.
Still, some areas in I.V. continue to have higher prices than others. In particular, Bailey said some rents are often influenced by the ocean-facing – and party-loving – Del Playa Drive.
“We didn’t take a rate increase on everything,” Bailey said. “One person sets prices on DP, and that affects everyone else’s price level.”
DP’s oceanfront location and party hard reputation has, hands down, made it the most popular street to live on in I.V. Many students also consider living on the “Party Street” as a rite of passage at UCSB.
“DP is the most sought after street,” Bailey said. “It really sets the tone for all of I.V.”
Kooyman said his company manages a few properties on DP and that such units often carry with them incredibly large liability issues. He said many of his company’s tenants break their leases mid-year. Common complaints include loud music and parking problems.
Meanwhile, James Gelb is a private landlord of many I.V. properties, including 14 on DP Gelb said DP generally costs about 10 percent higher than the rest of I.V. in return for the ocean view. He said he sets his prices based on the number of people trying to rent from him.
“The price raise is dictated on supply and demand,” Gelb said.
Gelb, like many I.V. landlords or managers, is a UCSB alum himself and said he enjoys renting to students because they are good tenants and are timely on their payments. He said the key to continuing business is maintaining good property management, good service and good prices.
An Inconvenient Number
Due to the high demand for I.V. housing, though, “good pricing” has become a very gray area. Akchurin said she was amazed at how high the rent prices have gone up and said the only way for students to make an impact on the cost is to not live in I.V.
“At some point you have to ask, who’s setting the game?” Akchurin said.
While the average rent rate is going up for the whole of I.V., there are a few extreme cases of rates rising by four digits. Bret Smith, a second-year mechanical engineering major, said he and his current housemates will not renew their lease on Abrego with St. George because their rent will be too high.
“We want to live closer to DP plus they’re raising the rent by $1,000, so that would make it impossible to live here,” Smith said.
Smith said St. George sent him a letter explaining that his two-bedroom doubles would become triples next school year, making the rent go up by $1,000.
“I don’t know how they expect six people to live here with one bathroom,” Smith said.
Akchurin said because leases are one-year only, landlords can legally raise the rent to however much they want.
“Because they’re new contracts, there’s not a barrier on that,” Akchurin said. “It’s whatever the market will bear, unfortunately.”
Beth Goodman, a second-year political science major, lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the same building. She said she also received a letter from St. George, but that her apartment’s rent would increase from $1,400 per month to $1,800 per month.
“They said they want four people in the singles, and we have two people now,” Goodman said. “For the one bedroom, that’s ridiculous.”
St. George declined to comment on that particular rent raise.
San Clemente the Savior?
Despite, the raising prices, Akchurin said I.V. landlords may see some new competition with the opening of UCSB’s San Clemente Village located along El Colegio Road.
“Word on the street is that they’re afraid of the impacts of San Clemente,” Akchurin said.
The two-bedroom and four-bedroom apartments will house 964 graduate and transfer students, each with their own single bedroom. Rent at San Clemente will cost $723 per person for the four single-bedroom apartment or $831 per person for the two single-bedroom apartment. The price includes utilities, cable and Internet.
However, Kooyman said he is actually glad San Clemente will open because it will offer students affordable housing.
“When the university builds housing, it helps students,” Kooyman said. “The university doesn’t pay property tax, and that’s high. You cut that out, and you save 30 percent. All things we struggle to get, they have set up state of the art.”
Kooyman said the only things he does not like about San Clemente is that it was built on top of Storke Field. He said he would rather see I.V. infill than spread out, so as to maintain the surrounding greenery and views.
Gelb said he is not worried about the structure affecting his business and even looks forward to the competition.
“We thrive on competition, it’s the American way of doing business,” Gelb said. “I’m not afraid of it, and I encourage it.”
Brown said the school plans on building more structures like San Clemente in the future, with housing development plans in the works on Ocean Road as well as 90 units of housing planned for the north knoll of the recently purchased Devereux land.
Go Go Goleta
According to a CHO survey, in Fall 2007, 6,175 undergraduate students lived in UCSB residences, 2,008 lived in Goleta, 8,660 lived in I.V. and 1,884 lived in Santa Barbara. In Goleta, a two-bedroom apartment is about $1,550, nearly $1000 less than a two-bedroom in I.V.
“There’s a whole other market that’s missing from students’ minds in Goleta,” Akchurin said.
Most contracts in Goleta are month-to-month versus the twelve month lease in I.V. Students who want to live in Goleta have many more options available to them in June, instead of signing up in January for a lease that starts in June.
“We’ve created this nightmare market in I.V. where people sign contracts in January for June,” Akchurin said.
Sorto said another problem with living in I.V. is the community does not have a collective memory.
“There is a significant percentage I consider to be long term residents like low-income families and professors, but the mass majority of the population leaves in like five years, and that really affects I.V.,” he said.
As for the future, Gelb said the community must collaborate in order to keep I.V. more stable.
“Students and landlords should work in cooperation with each other,” Gelb said. “We’re both on the same side. We want good housing.”