Irvine Meadows West, UCI’s mobile residence grounds, officially closed this summer on July 31. However, the matter of how the university handled the park’s closing remains open and controversial. Now, nearly two months after IMW has disappeared, there is still no new parking lot on the IMW grounds nor has an alternative on-campus mobile housing park been created to take its place.
After a year of protests, arrests, local media coverage, letters and a forum held by IMW residents in an attempt to keep the park from closing, the final decision on the fate of IMW ultimately rested in the hands of the university.
Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Housing William Zeller spoke of the inevitability of the park’s closing.
‘There was a high priority for use of that space as the campus grows,’ Zeller said.
In response to claims that the university was unaccommodating in helping IMW residents find new housing, Zeller believes they did as much as they could to ‘address the individual needs of each resident.’ Zeller said that housing worked with a committee and a university staff group to help IMW residents find other places to live on campus.
However, many former residents still feel that the university did not do its part to help residents.
Amber Rinderknecht, former resident as well as co-chair of the IMW Homeowners Association, said that the administration ‘absolutely did not attend to the needs of [the] grad students.’
Fourth-year psychology and social behavior graduate student Heather Lench shares the same sentiment as Rinderknecht.
‘They made us move in March, [five months before IMW closed] so that we wouldn’t lose our student housing spot,’ Lench said.
Zeller disagrees with Lench and says that IMW residents had to honor the move-in policies of their new housing communities.
‘Housing worked with residents to honor their first-choice preference on where they would like to move,’ Zeller explained. ‘Many requested Verano because of rent, and in order to honor it they had to be able to move and be flexible.’
Garrett Asay, former resident and co-chair of the IMW Homeowners Association, thought that ‘the moving process was poorly planned.’ He pointed out that the university sponsored an auction to sell remaining trailers weeks before the closing date, which left some without a place to live.
Rinderknecht is also upset because the university has not completed construction of the surface parking lot. One of the reasons the university justified the closing of the trailer park was so the university could be immediately turned into a parking lot to help alleviate some of the parking congestion experienced on campus.
Rinderknecht notes that the university told IMW residents that they had to move out by July 31 because of the urgent need to ‘build a temporary parking lot, to support the loss of parking from the engineering parking structure [due to the construction] before fall quarter.’
However Rinderknecht points out, ‘Today [UCI has not] touched the trailer park except to put a fence around it.’
Besides offering an affordable monthly rent of $110, residents were allowed to alter and personalize their homes as well as bring pets. Most of these perks will not carry over to any new on-campus housing communities made available to graduate students.
Some of these IMW residents have stayed on campus and some have moved away where housing is more affordable. Both Lench and Asay have stayed on campus in Verano Place and live with restrictions never placed on them before and pay higher rent.
Rinderknecht, on the other hand, has moved 30 miles away from campus to find affordable rent and a place that will allow her to keep her dogs.
Asay and Rinderknecht still feel that the increasing rates of housing will only deter future students from coming. Because of this, they believe their mission to find affordable, alternative housing for graduate students is still not over.
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