By Justice Healy
Rent prices for off-campus housing around UCI increased by an average of $68 between this year and last, leaving many students continuing to struggle with already high rent prices in the area.
With the cost of living in Irvine 225 percent higher than the national average, students commonly have to work one or more jobs, or cram more tenants than allowed by a lease into an apartment, in order to afford their monthly rent.
Last year, fifth-year chemistry and psychology major Cassandra Aranibar lived in a two-bedroom apartment at Berkeley Court with six girls total in the apartment. Three resided in the master bedroom, two in the other bedroom, and one lived in the living room, bringing each roommate’s monthly rent to roughly $455.
“It was really gross and dirty,” Cassandra recalled, citing that there was a problem figuring out “who should clean what” and a lot of “blaming and complaining.”
In addition to communication problems, only two people in Cassandra’s apartment were on the lease, leading to issues such as one roommate’s car getting towed because she wasn’t on the community’s email list and missed the memo that the parking lot was to be repaved one weekend.
Liza, a third-year education major who declined to use her last name, currently lives near campus in a two-bedroom apartment where seven people live in order to lessen the price of rent: Four people occupy the master bedroom and three people live in the other bedroom, bringing each person’s rent to roughly $410 per person.
“I don’t know if I’m just talking from a poor college student’s perspective, because I’m sure there are people who can afford it, but it’s hard for students,” said Liza.
Recently, Liza and her roommates — who also struggle financially — considered adding an eighth roommate to the two-bedroom apartment in order to lower the rent even more.
With so many students living in close quarters, conflicts inevitably arise. There exists the problem of which of the roommates will put their names on the lease, since Ambrose, the Irvine Company Apartment complex where Liza lives, would not allow an occupancy as high as seven roommates.
Liza describes that being one of the people on the lease can be a liability. On the lease, one is legally bound to pay rent — and if the roommates not on the lease don’t pay their share, leaseholders have to cover the charge themselves. Being on the lease with irresponsible roommates, therefore, can cause one to feel like a debt collector — or even worse, leaving one to cover another roommate’s rent.
Both Cassandra and Liza are students who have to work to afford their rent. Financially independent from their parents, Liza works part-time on campus at Gateway Study Center, usually between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m., while Cassandra works about 20 hours per week for UCI Catering.
Between working, saving money, and receiving grants from school, Cassandra has not had to take out any loans. Liza, on the other hand, depends on loans to pay rent and buy groceries.
Liza said she “used to feel really stressed” about the amount of loans she’s had to take out, but she now feels a sense of “resignation” in order to cope with the idea of future debt.
Liza’s situation with loans is reflective of how most college students pay for expenses like housing, with the national class of 2016 graduating with an average loan debt of $37,172.
Andrew Greenswright, a third-year physics major, regularly takes out loans to afford his rent, and borrowed $1,800 just for this quarter. He also works 18 hours per week to afford his $750 monthly rent. He shares a room in Newport Beach and commutes to school.
“[Having to work] definitely affects my social life. I feel like I miss out on a lot of things because I’m always at work between eight and five. So that’s unfortunate,” said Andrew.
For Andrew, Cassandra and Liza, struggling to afford high rent prices impacts their social and academic lives, and stress is always a factor. When it comes to going out to eat with friends, the inevitable conflict arises of whether or not to even go, since eating out costs more than buying groceries.
Students have limited options when it comes to choosing an affordable place to live near campus. Student housing such as Camino, Vista del Campo, and Vista del Campo Norte have monthly rents averaging more than $900 per month.
One can live further away, such as about two miles away from campus in Villa Sienna apartments (where a two-bedroom costs $2,500 per month) or in Park West apartments (where a two-bedroom costs about $2,200), but that creates the need to buy a parking pass at UCI, which costs $630 per academic year.
“I feel terrible about this, but I’ve had to borrow [money] from my friends,” said Liza, discussing a few occurrences where she couldn’t afford rent on her own. “It’s only happened a few times, but I had to do it.”
With the average rent price in Orange County projected to increase by 9.4 percent by 2018, it’s likely that students will continue to struggle with increased loan debt and unconventional living situations in order to afford housing.