By Eliza Partika
This fall, ASUCI’s new Housing Committee will — to raise awareness of student struggles with basic needs and housing insecurity — lobby on behalf of such issues to university administrators and the local government.
Housing insecurity and homelessness have become increasingly concerning for residents of Orange County, a problem highlighted in a recent study lead by Dr. David Snow, PhD and Rachel E. Goldberg, Assistant Professor of Sociology of UCI Sociology. The study cited the two most common reasons for homelessness in Orange County as a lack of sustainable employment and the rising costs of living. An OC Register account from February 2017 reported that the average cost to rent an apartment in Orange County had risen to $1,800 a month.
Both homelessness and housing insecurity in Orange County have increased over 200 percent in the last decade, according to the Orange County Community Indicators Report.
Cassius Rutherford, ASUCI’s new Housing Commissioner, hopes to alleviate issues for housing-insecure students who are often overlooked.
“The reason we titled our commission ‘Housing Insecurity’ is because the lack of sustainable employment that causes homelessness for some people causes housing insecurity for a ton of people,” said Rutherford. “There’s the umbrella of housing insecurity that doesn’t fall under homelessness, but [housing-insecure students’] living situation is not secure, they’re not comfortable in their living situation. The increasing cost of housing really makes people struggle when they are trying to pay for food and the other things they have to pay for, and also so much on rent.”
Rutherford also pointed out the struggle many students have finding secure summer housing, and how freshman often struggle with uncertainty about housing, as they fill out forms in November for second-year housing, only to have to wait until early September to find out their housing assignments.
“They have to make that decision about what they are going to do so early on; they have to fill out the survey to get guaranteed housing in November and that’s way before they have any idea about what’s going to be going on in their sophomore year, or over the next summer,” Rutherford said.
The commission will be creating their own study which will tackle questions under the umbrella of housing insecurity, including how students respond to the cost of housing and what that cost actually is to students, whether students are cutting down on other expenditures and taking on other jobs to pay for housing, and most importantly to Rutherford, the intersectionality between mental health and housing insecurity.
“It’s so fundamental to our existence; having a safe home is critical,” Rutherford said.
The commission will examine the method UCI uses to process students’ guaranteed housing to create a more secure environment for students if living arrangements change, and will also investigate ways to improve UCI’s emergency housing allotment, which, according to Rutherford, currently consists of one double room in Arroyo Vista. Consequently, one of Rutherford’s largest goals is to have a temporary shelter for students on campus if they are in need of emergency housing or temporary shelter.
Another one of the commission’s goals is to raise awareness among students.
“I think that this is something people talk about on an individual basis. Everyone complains about their rent, or has some gripe about their living situation but it’s never viewed as a collective problem that affects all of us,” Rutherford said. “So bridging the gap there and making them aware that this is a systemic issue will be a big goal of ours.”
The commission also hopes to gather “statistically significant data” within the academic year to help lobby city hall. He hopes that such figures will influence university and city policy on housing for low-income workers and students.
“Personal testimonies are powerful, but they want numbers, they want to talk about cost, and if we don’t have that information on hand, we need those numbers,” Rutherford said. ons working to end homelessness.
The main focus of these policy goals are to have tighter housing regulations on the market to incentivize affordable housing.
“Developers and apartment companies can get away with charging a lot for rent because [due to the lack of housing in Orange County] there will always be people to fill it. Our goal is to have denser, more affordable housing and there’s no one at city hall trying to incentivize that right now,” Rutherford said.
ASUCI President Lydia Natoolo, who campaigned in support of the Housing Commission, will be in a position to collaborate with other campuses on issues of housing insecurity and lobby through UCSA to legislators in Sacramento to raise awareness of this issue. Some members of the Housing Commission will be able to go on lobby visits with Natoolo and Nikki Dalupang, the head of ASUCI’s Legislative Affairs Commission, and see how they are organizing their efforts, what questions they are asking and how each ASUCI branch can collaborate to raise awareness of the issue.
This collaboration will continue on-campus with the FRESH Basic Needs Hub, an expansion of UCI’s food pantry set to open this week.