The Office of the External Vice President for Local Affairs and UC Santa Barbara’s Blum Center Student Leader Team co-sponsored a Renters’ Crisis Housing Forum on May 14 to discuss Isla Vista housing.

Local organizations gathered alongside community members to discuss the state of housing in Isla Vista and resources for tenants. Michelle Cisneros / Daily Nexus

Held at the University Center’s Santa Barbara Harbor Room, the event was the second in a series of forums based on the Blum Center’s People’s Guide to UCSB’s Housing Crisis. The first forum focused on the guide’s resources, especially in the aftermath of the Munger Hall plan’s dissolution in 2022. 

According to 2022 data from the city of Santa Barbara, the median rent in Isla Vista is $5,750 — more than every city in Santa Barbara County, including Montecito and Summerland.  

Representatives from Associated Students, Santa Barbara Tenants Union, I.V. Community Services District, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, and Assistant Vice Chancellor & Dean of Student Life Katya Armistead presented on their organizations and respective housing initiatives. 

Blum Center student leader and second-year sociology and film and media studies double major Becky Chen iterated why the center held this forum.

“We want to talk about initiatives being done to collect data [about] the housing crisis, to mobilize people, to educate and [to discuss] any other efforts toward solving [the housing crisis],” she said. 

Roughly 25 community members attended, and campus catering provided sandwiches and light snacks. 

The presentation began with a brief history of local housing issues in I.V. and highlighted the failed effort to make I.V. a city that can pass housing legislation and the tendency for student residents to drive out longtime residents by raising demand for housing and therefore rent prices. 

I.V. has witnessed yearslong historic housing issues as well as landlord negligence, with students grappling with homelessness following housing shortages, rising rent and balcony collapses from bluff erosion. 

“Unaffordability has consequences because students can’t work more than 20 hours a week. So even on the high end, students can’t physically afford to pay rent and this denies students their right to housing and therefore education as well,” said Blum Center student leader and fourth-year communication major Reilly Wilson. 

The forum moved forward to discuss the state of housing. Wilson emphasized that students earning minimum wage cannot afford housing. A report by the Santa Barbara Foundation found that an hourly wage of $47.06 is needed to afford the average monthly rent, however, the hourly wage for workers in Santa Barbara County is $29.82 and $16 for minimum wage UCSB student workers. 

The increasing concentration of rental properties by the top four major leasers Playa Life IV, Meridian Group Real Estate, Sierra Property Management and Wolfe & Associates Property Management often leads to difficulties in communicating renters’ concerns according to Blum Center student leader and fourth-year Spanish and psychological and brain sciences double major Frannie Fleming. 

Alongside rentals in Isla Vista, the presentation discussed private development at UCSB, including the dissolution of Munger Hall — an ambitious, controversial 3,500-room residence hall project — and its Ocean Road project — faculty and staff housing that would remove the border between UCSB and I.V. According to the presentation, these projects misused the time and money of students and faculty.

Fleming said EVPLA survey data found that only 25% of students believe they are receiving a quality of living that matches what they are paying for. Over 50% of students in I.V. pay over $1,000 in rent per month and less than 2% pay under $500 a month. 

Fleming read out anonymous student survey testimonies on personal living conditions in I.V. 

“I live in the garage and there was a water leak that was the leasing company’s fault, causing black mold and after submitting five maintenance requests no action was taken,” she said. 

Participants were encouraged to complete a data survey of current rentals in I.V.  

Fleming also highlighted climate change as an ongoing issue that necessitates changes to existing housing and disproportionately impacts low-income residents. 

A.S. Associate Director of Technology & Strategic Communications Sean Lieberman introduced an upcoming project —Rate My I.V. Rental — which will act as a website where community members can review the property they’re renting. The website is tentatively set to be released during fall 2024. 

The second half of the forum opened up questions to the audience Q&A that opened the discussion to attendants. 

Fourth-year physics major Matthew Davison raised questions about the high turnover of student renters and how that affects renters’ issues. 

Panelists stated that while student tenants move in and out of I.V. frequently, the student body is a permanent resident in I.V. that has a shared need for affordable housing. This means that students can still rally behind housing legislation that benefits the next generation. 

“I’ve learned that there were a lot of different groups here, especially in Isla Vista but in the county as a whole working on these changes independently, but I would like to see a bit more like clear direction on what an individual can do even if it’s just a simple measure of voting towards small changes we want to see incrementally,” Davison said.