The Daily Nexus Investigates House-Hunting In and Around UCSB, Interviews Students on Experiences
With ‘For Rent’ signs slapped on almost every house or apartment in Isla Vista, thousands of students are now joining the annual housing rush that begins around the end of every Fall Quarter and beginning of every Winter. During this time, a swarm of UCSB students phone landlords, knock on doors and scramble to fill out paperwork to claim anything from a dream house on the ocean side of Del Playa Drive to a cozy little apartment on Picasso.
The UCSB Admissions Office reveals statistics that show 52 percent of UCSB students reside in off-campus, non-university owned housing located in I.V., Goleta or Santa Barbara. With the sheer amount of fellow house-hunting competitors, students have been known to rush through house-securing procedures and eventually pay a hefty price for lease agreements that are signed too quickly.
According to Jennifer Ja Birchim, spokesperson from the UCSB Community Housing Office, students facing housing troubles are met with these obstacles only once they actually begin living in their reserved apartments or houses. Such problems include complaints about management, dissatisfaction over rent prices, lack of understanding for the terms written on the lease contract and issues with rushed roommate pairings.
“Slow down,” Ja Birchim said. “There’s this buzz that happens come October, this panic that they need to find housing. We’re really trying to slow them down and educate them.”
In this case, Ja Birchim suggests students take a look at the Community Housing Office’s education programs, such as a Rental Fair which is taking place today at the Arbor, where representatives of a variety of housing managements in I.V. will be located to interact with students still seeking out available rental spaces.
“We are having these educational programs to really walk students through the process so that they go in with their eyes wide open about housing options, living in the community and what that looks like,” Ja Birchim said.
I.V. Living: “Not Always Rainbows and Butterflies…”
Even with these resources, a number of students struggle with their housing decisions. Notorious I.V. apartment living concerns range from safety issues to parking problems. For third-year psychology major Emily Lofthouse, one of the biggest quips about renting involves the infamously inflated rental prices.
“I.V. is the place that most students want to and do live in, and landlords know that, so housing can be really expensive,” Lofthouse said.
Sharing a one-bedroom apartment can range from $600-$800 per student per month, while a house on DP holding about seven to eight people can be close to $4,000-$8,000 total per month. Like Lofthouse, second-year chemical engineering major Scott Lynn said the financial weight of I.V. housing can leave an ugly dent in a renter’s checkbook, but this monetary burden is also passed along to the non-student residents of I.V.
“The thing about I.V. is that it is near the beach and is close to campus, so that means there is high demand not only from college students, but also from other families in the area who have children in the schools around here,” Lynn said. “It sucks that both of those parties have to pay such high prices, especially since the families in the area tend to be of lower income.”
While Lynn understands the reasoning behind the high prices, he sometimes feels uncomfortable that the money he currently pays could potentially afford a much better house in another area.
“My apartment is worth the price, for the area at least. I know in other college towns, like Davis, the price I’m paying for my apartment would rent a house twice as big,” Lynn said.
Along with prices, Lofthouse said she also marks noise as a pressing concern on her list of I.V. housing cons.
“I called the cops on my neighbors once because they were screaming, running up and down the side of the house during midterms. I had no idea what they were doing and why they were doing it,” Lofthouse said. “The cops came and told them to shut up, but they didn’t.”
With UCSB ranked the #2 ‘Party School’ in the nation by the Princeton Review back in August, the noise comes as no shocker for many. Second-year economics and environmental science double major Antonia Tran said she views noise as a minor problem in comparison to the security and crime concerns in I.V. — such as theft, assaults and stabbings — which can oftentimes be committed by (predictably) drunk residents. However, Tran said, with I.V. only about two square miles wide, such rowdiness is unavoidable.
“Living here is definitely a blessing along with a curse, because with so many young people who also happen to party often together, a lot of belligerence and carelessness is bound to happen: unwelcome guests, unsolicited attention, too much noise and disorderly conduct,” Tran said. “These are just to name a few when you live in a very heavily college-based community in such a small area.”
Apartments vs. Dorms
Despite the barrage of downfalls to living the I.V. life, third-year economics and accounting major Michelle Cho, who currently lives on the 6500 block of DP’s vibrant ocean side, said I.V. offers freshmen or transfer students residing in the residence halls an opportunity to smoothly transition into independent living.
Cho admits, however, that renting a house in I.V. is in no way “easier” than university housing options. While UCSB Housing & Residential Services offer their residents internet access, a live-in staff and 24-hour on-call maintenance, amongst other services, renters in I.V. must be responsible for their own house cleaning, cooking and bill paying.
Then come the fees. According to UCSB Housing & Residential Services, a standard double room with a 14-meal plan costs $14,211 for the entire 2013-14 school year, with a single costing a little more at $15,711 and a triple at $11,411. Prices fluctuate on whether residence hall students choose to book a 10-meal, 17-meal or unlimited meal plan. In comparison, a single individual’s full-year lease of an apartment in I.V. — keeping in mind that this means renting for 12 months while the residence hall rooms are “rented” for a little less than nine — oftentimes turns out cheaper, with prices paid per person ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. However, costs of utilities and weekly food supplies must be taken into account, and many of the higher-paying renters find themselves balancing out the prices with those offered by UCSB’s residence halls.
According to Cho, however, as long as students stay smart about house-hunting and are aware and comfortable with their fee payments, renting in I.V. becomes an invaluable tool to help students learn crucial skills such as cooking and paying bills. Cho said I.V. living is part of a period of trial and error that can help students gauge what sort of living environment is right for them in the future.
“There’s so much freedom. We live on our own and we can follow our own rules, given they also follow the restrictions on our lease. With that comes a lot of independence,” Cho said. “Having your own place kind of forces you to grow up and take responsibility.”
Choosing housing in I.V. does not necessarily mean students must go through independent management companies, however. UCSB provides university-owned apartments at El Dorado, Santa Ynez, Westgate and Westwinds as well as graduate apartments at the San Clemente Villages and family student apartments on Storke Road and at the west end of campus.
Because dorms were overbooked, second-year electrical engineering major Han Chou was offered space in the San Clemente apartments with a few other friends. Chou said all residents at San Clemente receive a single and interact with each other less than would dorm residents. However, he said the people at San Clemente appear more independent and the environment at the apartments are much more conducive for studying purposes.
“Having my own room really helped me during testing weeks and keeping my privacy,” Chou said. “There really isn’t much to complain about other than occasional ant problems.”
Words from the Landlords
While some managements are more involved with their tenants and strive to build pleasant and professional rapport, others never speak or respond to their tenants and only see them twice — once for lease signing and once again for key turn-ins.
According to James Knapp of Koto Group Inc., a fairly new property management with multiple locations dispersed throughout I.V., the toughest challenge Koto Group faces lies in the education of first-time renters on how the whole housing process works. According to Knapp, renters are encouraged to contact the management team at any time via email, phone and text messaging.
Knapp also said UCSB clientele comes across as more appealing to him and Koto Group since UCSB students are more “friendly, appreciative and easy to work with.”
“Renting to students is great,” Knapp said. “I particularly enjoy working with the I.V. community since they are quick to adopt new technology that we offer, as well as give us interesting ideas about how we can improve our properties and services.”
For UCSB alumnus and president of Meridian Group Real Estate Management Robert Kooyman, the realm of I.V. leasing is highly familiar. Having studied real estate and management for 28 years, Kooyman said he advises students to educate themselves about the different management companies and their respective leasing philosophies.
“Some managements are very laissez-faire, ‘hands off.’ We’re never going to talk to you until June when you move out. Here are the keys. You won’t hear from us,’” Kooyman said. “Then, there are some of us who want to try to find the middle road. We want to do an annual inspection, check on you and the property and we want be a resource.’”
According to Kooyman, knowing about the various housing options available in I.V. — from building type and size to price and location — will help students make better decisions about their future living situation.
“Become an educated customer,” Kooyman said. “There are lots of choices out there.”
There’s No Place Like I.V.
Amidst all the steps and factors involved in the whirlwind of I.V. housing, many students still find their college years spent in the tiny beachside community to be a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, according to Tran.
“It truly is an experience that you’re only exposed to once, and this kind of thing doesn’t even happen at all colleges necessarily,” Tran said. “It’s two square miles of all these people that are in your age group going through the same things as you, and for the most part, it’s a very friendly, student-based community.”
Second-year economics major Kim Garcia said while she found her freshman year experience in a dorm beneficial as a new UCSB student, living in an apartment in I.V. has improved her levels of self-sufficiency and has not barred her from meeting new people. Like Tran, Garcia said she does not regret her decision one bit.
“My experience in I.V. has been absolutely amazing,” Garcia said. “I have never felt so free in my life. I have had the opportunity to make friends, learn a lot about myself and become very independent.”
Rilla Peng contributed to this article.