Majoring in couch surfing
12.6 percent of Sacramento State students experience homelessness
Due to the impracticality of living in a city with an average rent of nearly $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment, for his first two years at UC Davis, Dylan Musgrove commuted 47 miles from El Dorado County for class, band practice and social outings.
“There'd be times where I commuted back and forth between my home in Rescue every single day for weeks on end,” Musgrove said. “I made virtually no friends my first year. I essentially missed out on two hours of studying each day.”
As rents in the Sacramento region continue to skyrocket, forcing students to either couch-surf or commute absurd distances, UC Davis and Sacramento State University have announced a number of housing projects aimed at easing the crisis.
UC Davis recently announced its long-range development plan, which would create room for an additional 8,500 students, a near 50-percent increase from the school's current capacity. Some 5,200 units are expected to be built by 2022.
On April 18, the Davis Vanguard hosted a town hall to address the student housing crisis, at which Mayor Robb Davis expressed frustration with local interests blocking construction of new multifamily residential projects. These groups say they are concerned about additional traffic and greenhouse gas emissions downtown and around the university. Davis characterized opponents as NIMBYs and said it was hypocritical in a city that calls itself one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world but refuses to embrace density.
“We're pushing people out to Dixon, Vacaville, Woodland, Sacramento, West Sacramento and beyond,” Davis said. “The reality is you cannot call yourself a city that cares about the environment when you force people into their cars.”
Davis said that, since he took office, the City Council has been trying to build multifamily units rather than depend entirely on the university to provide student housing. The city has fought—and won—two lawsuits challenging the environmental impact reports of two multifamily projects aimed at easing the crisis: Nishi 1.0 and Lincoln40.
That may sound counter-intuitive—that taking on EIR challenges is somehow akin to defending the environment. But the mayor rebuts the notion that not building has no environmental impact.
“We seem to have this idea that if the [environmental] impact is not visible to us, then the impact does not exist,” Davis said. “If you don't build it, then there's no impact. Well, we know that's not true.”
Sacramento State, UC Davis' more affordable neighbor to the east, has recently faced a housing crisis of its own.
At the end of last year, Sacramento State officials estimated that as many as 3,600 students were homeless—sleeping outdoors, in a shelter, car or on a friend's couch. In February, a study conducted by the California State University system reported that 12.6 percent of Sacramento State students attest to experiencing homelessness at one point in their college careers; more than 47 percent struggle with food insecurity.
If it wasn't for the financial help from her father, Holly Feuerwerker, a senior at Sacramento State, could've been one of those homeless students—or not be attending college at all.
“My dad gave me a place to live and helped me out with tuition,” Feuerwerker said. “If it wasn't for him I would've had a choice: go into tens of thousands of dollars in debt just to get my bachelor's degree or nix the whole college thing from the start.”
Just 6 percent of students live on campus at Sacramento State compared to 25 percent at UC Davis, according to USNews.com, making Sacramento State one of the most commuter-heavy colleges in California.
Feuerwerker has spent four-and-a-half years commuting between Fair Oaks and the university—dealing with the school's abysmal parking situation in the process.
“Hours of my life have been stolen from me [in the school's parking lots],” Feuerwerker said. “There's basically nowhere to live on campus and off-campus is a pain in the ass and too expensive, otherwise I'd love to walk or bike to campus.”
After having been long known as a commuter campus, Sac State is shifting gears to a 24-hour campus setting. The university recently began housing over 400 students in the newly constructed Riverview Hall and purchased Dan McAuliffe Memorial Ballparks for a student housing development, which will push the number of beds on campus from 2,100 to 3,200.
According to RentCafe.com, rents have increased by 10 and 9 percent since last year and 18.9 and 32.8 percent since January 2015 in Davis and Sacramento, respectively. Average rent for a studio apartment in each city hovers around $1,000 a month.
As cities and counties struggle to house their students at a reasonable price, state legislation aimed at easing the crisis is making its way through the legislative process. Senate Bill 1227, authored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, would allow local jurisdictions to provide what are called density bonuses to developers who build student housing, including a certain amount for lower-income students.