Members of ASUCI’s Legislative Affairs Commission spoke at Irvine City Hall last Tuesday about the issues students face finding affordable housing in Irvine. The public comments were addressed to Irvine City Council, and were organized by the Legislative Affairs Commission as part of their Housing Security Initiative. The initiative seeks to educate the City Council about student housing issues and advocate for the creation of a housing affordability task force in the city.
Cassius Rutherford, a student organizer with the housing initiative, began the series of public comments with a series of statistics and facts about housing, wages and employment in the city of Irvine.
“If Irvine is to maintain its economic edge and support the success of local businesses and the well-being of its residents, the lack of low-cost housing is an issue that needs to be addressed,” Rutherford said.
The homeless and housing insecure student population has soared over the last decade to about 32,000 students, according to an Orange County Community Indicators Report (OCCIR). The number represents a 230 percent increase in the last decade.
Minimum wages have not kept up with housing costs in the county, leading to large amounts of student homelessness and housing insecurity. According to a report by the OCCIR, a minimum wage worker would be required to work nearly 110 hours per week to afford the average rent in Orange County.
Aya Labanieh, a UCI student and incoming president of College Democrats at UCI, spoke about the need for increased housing, given that UC Irvine expects to expand its enrollment to 40,000 within the next decade.
Nikki Dalupang, ASUCI Legislative Affairs Co-Assistant Director and third-year political science and international studies double major, was one of the lead organizers of the student housing campaign.
“We want to work here. We want to start our families here. But that can’t happen if [Irvine] is unable to find homes for us to safely thrive in,” Dalupang said.
Both Rutherford and Dalupang stated that the Irvine City Council had set up two housing task forces in the past, and proposed that a new task force be set up to address housing affordability as a whole in the city, with direct representation from the student population. They argued that a task force was the next logical step to take for the city, given the prevalence of the problem and the sympathy already shown by councilmembers.
“To address affordable housing is a daunting task, but it is not impossible and it starts with this task force,” Dalupang said.
The action at City Council was the latest in a series of student presentations to local politicians and housing boards in the city. Students spoke before the City Council on Feb. 14 to begin advocating for student housing affordability, and also gave a public presentation to the Irvine Land Trust on April 17. Students presented a list of demands to the trust, such as expanding the number of low-income housing units in the city beyond the currently planned amount as well as shortening the waitlist periods for housing.
As a result of the actions, several council members have expressed support for this issue.
At a prior presentation in February, Councilmember Christina L. Shea said she was “moved” by the students who came to speak and that “she was unaware that it was affecting UCI students on such a grand scale.”
Council member Melissa Fox has been a strong supporter of students, and acknowledged her concern over the lack of affordable housing in the city. In a public comment on Facebook after Tuesday’s council meeting, Fox said, “Thank you to the UCI students who spoke to the Irvine City Council this evening, urging us once again to focus on the important issue of student housing insecurity and even student homelessness in Irvine.”
Mayor Donald Wagner stated that the city and the university were already in talks to work on the issue of student housing.
“I will note for the record that at our last meeting we approved for our consent calendar an item from UCI with respects to some additional housing. We assure you that this is an issue that we take seriously” Wagner said. “Know that UCI and this council are working towards that issue and that I appreciate you coming and keeping that issue front and center for us.”