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Irvine student housing cost and crowding under scrutiny in report presented at UCI

Irvine student housing cost and crowding under scrutiny in report presented at UCI
Kenneth Stahl, a law professor at Chapman University in Orange, makes a presentation about California’s housing situation during a town hall meeting Thursday night at UC Irvine. (Courtesy of ASUCI Housing Security Commission)

According to a report commissioned by the Associated Students of UC Irvine, 8% of 2,017 UCI students surveyed have experienced housing insecurity at some point in college and 30% reported overcrowded housing conditions.

The data was collected through a 36-question survey that asked where students live, the number of times they’ve moved and whether they’ve reached out to campus staff for help.

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The report was presented in a town hall meeting at the university Thursday night.

Izzak Mireles, the graduate student who compiled the report, said the sample was not wholly representative of the student population — females were underrepresented and Asians overrepresented — but came close to campus demographics.

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Cassius “Cash” Rutherford, chief of staff for ASUCI President Annie Le, said the need for the report emerged when student leaders appealed to campus administrators and Irvine City Council members for affordable housing but lacked campus-specific data to support requests for city resources.

Le said the University of California system performs a survey every two years but the data is too broad to be applied to UCI.

One of the local study’s most significant findings, Le said, was that a large percentage of students who responded lived in situations that could be considered overcrowded. The report defines overcrowding as any housing situation in which more than two people share a bedroom or more than one person sleep in a common area.

Overcrowding, Le said, is likely because of housing costs and lease terms in Irvine. Apartments in Irvine rent for an average of $1,993 to $3,207 a month, depending on the floor plan, according to apartments.com.

“The cost is always a challenge ... for students to decide between the options they have,” Le said. “So a lot of students have to rely on sharing the common areas to reduce the cost. Not because it’s the most comfortable way of living, but just what many have to do to … survive here.”

Izzak Mireles, a graduate student at UC Irvine, compiled a report on UCI student housing conditions from data collected in a survey. The chart behind him lists the hours a student would need to work to afford an apartment near the campus.
Izzak Mireles, a graduate student at UC Irvine, compiled a report on UCI student housing conditions from data collected in a survey. The chart behind him lists the hours a student would need to work to afford an apartment near the campus. (Courtesy of ASUCI Housing Security Commission)

The report, which began last spring, coincidentally came a little less than a month after the Irvine council voted March 12 to approve the first reading of a zoning ordinance amendment that would tighten restrictions on boarding houses and short-term rentals, much to the chagrin of UCI student leaders.

The proposed amendment would define a household as a “single housekeeping unit,” meaning residents share living expenses, chores, meals and social, economic or psychological commitments. Otherwise, property owners would have to apply for a conditional use permit to operate a boarding house.

Rutherford said the ASUCI was “alarmed” by the proposed change, which was in response to homeowners’ concerns about noise, trash and parking shortages.

“For us, this is a fundamental issue of where we’re going to live and students having an affordable bed space vs. homeowners where … they already own a house and ‘made it in life,’” Rutherford said. “[Homeowners] know where they’re going to sleep at night. Students don’t know that.”

Mireles said in an interview before the town hall meeting that he is one of the students who would be directly affected by the proposed change.

“I think there’s a misunderstanding on what the students mean for the community,” Mireles said. “We don’t just come for four years. Some of us stay here after and this is our home.”

Councilwomen Melissa Fox and Farrah Khan attended the meeting to field questions from students. Fox voted against the amendment on first reading and condemned it at the town hall, calling it “immoral.”

“How are we going to police an ordinance that talks about chores and household units?” Fox said. “Why are we as a city going to be asking very intrusive questions about who’s living with who and why? This is not the goal of the city.”

Khan said she felt the move to adjust the definition of boarding houses in city code is a “bandage to the affordable housing crisis that students are facing and others are facing.”

Both agreed that an increase in affordable housing in the city is necessary but added that civic participation by students is needed to make the change.

Final adoption of the amendment has been delayed after the city heard from the California Department of Housing, which had concerns that the language in the ordinance would result in “constrained housing choice” for people with disabilities, according to Alicia Murillo, a spokeswoman for the department.

City spokeswoman Melissa Haley said city staff is communicating with the Department of Housing and expects to receive a formal letter from the state by next week.

The amendment proposal is expected to return to the City Council with revisions in November.

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