As UC Santa Barbara continues to contend with its housing crisis, the county and university have engaged in mediation as the county alleges that the university violated the Long Range Development Plan — a contract stating that the university must cap enrollment at 25,000 until 2025, build more dormitories for the additional 5,000 students the UC mandated every campus to enroll and build 1,800 new units for its faculty and staff.
According to Gina Fischer, representative for Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, “UCSB is out of compliance [with] the terms of the Long Range Development Plan based on their self-reported enrollment numbers and has not built required housing to keep up with their pace of enrollment.”
Hartmann said that Isla Vista has “tremendous overcrowding” when asked about how the county has been hurt by the university’s violation of the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).
“Because of the huge demand, it allows rents to be charged that are higher, which means that students are having to pay a larger and larger share of their income toward housing,” Hartmann said. “Many of the families in Isla Vista have to compete with students who often have more income even then.”
The consequence of this, Hartmann said, is that there is “a long history of Latinx families who really can’t compete [in the housing market], and so they’re being crowded out [of I.V.] or crowded into smaller and smaller units.”
Hartmann added that students are also living outside of I.V. and throughout Santa Barbara County as a result of the lack of housing in I.V., taking up residence in cities like Goleta and Santa Barbara.
“It drives up demand because there’s not enough on-campus housing for students, faculty and staff,” Hartmann said. “And I think it’s just the rule of economics: When you drive demand, then you drive up prices — and that is really hard for everybody.”
Fischer pushed back against the idea that Santa Barbara City College students living in I.V. is a major factor in the housing crisis.
“In some places, there’s a narrative that City College students are increasing; actually their enrollment has declined tremendously over the last probably seven years,” Fischer said.
“You can look at UCSB’s enrollment [and] you can see the incline right … [Its] capacity to house more students has slowly increased, but I think we might be at the breaking point where there’s just no more units in I.V. to accommodate the demand.”
Fischer commended UCSB’s effort but maintained that the university is still in violation of their contract. ]
“UCSB, to its credit, has helped more students than ever, but it’s simply just not enough compared to the volume of students they’ve accepted,” Fischer said.
The solution, according to the Third District’s Office, is not to reduce enrollment, but to increase campus housing.
Over the past summer, Sustainable University Now (SUN) — a community coalition — also accused the university of violating the LRDP. Richard Flacks, an emeritus sociology professor and chair with SUN, said that SUN has been monitoring UCSB’s compliance with the LRDP. According to Flacks, UCSB reached 25,000 students three years ago.
The housing crisis, he said, is a combination of multiple factors: the university’s violation of the LRDP, people working from home moving to Santa Barbara County and the decreased number of students studying abroad due to the pandemic.
“That’s like a perfect storm, isn’t it?” Flacks said.
Flacks emphasized that it’s not only the students who are affected by the lack of housing, but staff and faculty as well.
“The university plan, as of 10 years ago, is to build 1,800 plus faculty housing units by 2025. And again, these have not been fulfilled, that goal has not even begun to be fulfilled,” Flacks said. “And this is part of the mystery, the lack of transparency as it is, Why not? Why hasn’t there been some real development of that goal toward that goal?”
Flacks added that the salaries for UC faculty and staff are insufficient for the Santa Barbara housing market.
“A lot of faculty, and certainly a lot of staff who are paid less than the faculty, but faculty are not that well paid compared to the housing market,” Flacks said. “So a lot of people are living in Ventura and working [at UCSB], living in North County where the prices are lower and working [at UCSB]. So they have to commute every day, what 40, 50 minutes, 60 minutes — that’s not something that is very desirable.”
Flacks added that he has sympathy for the university, but its lack of transparency must be rectified.
“I have a lot of sympathy for them in coping with this, but the lack of transparency doesn’t help us understand and find directions that could maybe help solve [the housing crisis],” Flacks said. “We’re asking for a real timetable which is concrete and clear about when they’re going to fulfill the pledges they’re supposed to be keeping.”
As a part of fulfilling LRDP, the university is currently working on creating Munger Hall — a new, mostly windowless dormitory poised to open in 2025 and host around 4,500 students.
The dormitory — funded by billionaire Charles Munger — has been at the center of controversy due to its unique design, boasting 34 parking spots, 2 exits and primarily windowless rooms.
The design has a “complete lack of access to the outside from inside the building, with the eight-person living units being completely ‘sealed environments with no exterior windows’ and completely dependent on artificial lighting and mechanical ventilation,” according to Dennis McFadden, a project architect who resigned in protest of the building proposal.
Fischer said that the university’s plan to build Munger Hall as a solution to the housing crisis will leave students at UCSB before 2025 without much of a solution. In addition, Fischer added that the university’s timeline is ambitious, as UCSB will have to get the approval of the California Coastal Commission prior to building.
“The only housing plan [UCSB has] communicated to the County of Santa Barbara and to the public is the Munger Hall property, which they assert will house somewhere between 4,000 and up to 5,000 students and even under their very ambitious timeline to build and complete that project, sometime in 2025,” Fischer said.
“This is one of the biggest housing projects ever built in America, in coastal zone California. So if they get that built in five years time, by the time it is completed, they will be out of compliance.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the Nov. 4, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.