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Amid the housing crisis, UCLA becomes the first UC to guarantee beds

It’s only 35 miles between UCLA and Whittier, Albert Hsu’s hometown. The freshman Bruin could have commuted and saved $14,000 a year in campus housing and board costs. But that wasn’t even a consideration, because Hsu wanted the classic college experience of independent dorm life, new friends, group class sessions — and at UCLA, the vote of more than 1,200 student organizations.

All of this, Hsu said, enriches him personally and helps him academically. “Friends are a source of moral support, and club activities help you relieve stress,” he said. “So I didn’t want to commute. I wanted that full college experience.”

Ever since UCLA built its first four dormitories to break away from a commuter campus six decades ago, the university has known that students who live on campus do better. Now UCLA has reached a unique milestone. With two new apartment buildings opening this fall offering 3,446 beds, UCLA will be the first and only UCLA campus to offer four-year lodging for freshmen and two years for transfer students. The campus plans to tout that selling point when it releases admissions decisions this month.

“By living in a dormitory, we can better ensure that every student has a good start and thus a better chance of success. That’s why we wanted to give every student the opportunity to study for four years,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in an interview. “That was the dream and it’s finally coming true.”

The students eat lunch in a canteen

The students have lunch in Olympic Hall, a new residential complex at UCLA.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

UCLA’s housing guarantee comes at a time when the state is gripped by an affordable college housing crisis. According to a last fall, more than 16,000 students were on waitlists for housing in the UC and California State University systems report of the country Legislative Analyst’s Office, and some of those denied on-campus housing were forced to live in vans and motel rooms. Since 2015, UC has added 27,583 students — but only about 22,000 beds. Community protests, environmental concerns and litigation have slowed or halted at least six UC housing projects in the past three years.

The housing shortage was playing out most dramatically at UC Berkeley, where a lawsuit by a community group threatened to force the popular university to cut its incoming class by a third — until state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom stormed in this week with a bailout plan. The group, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, argued in part that the campus’s failure to build enough housing sent too many students into the neighborhood housing and displaced low-income residents. Last fall, UC Berkeley turned down more than 5,500 housing requests, and 40% of students are unable to live in the city due to tight supply and high rents, the campus reported.

However, UCLA has managed to build enough housing for any student who wants it, even though its physical footprint of 419 acres is the smallest of UC’s nine university campuses and it’s located on some of the state’s most expensive real estate near by Brentwood, Bel Air and Beverly Hills.

“Because the Los Angeles housing market is so expensive, we are highly motivated…to try to find lower-cost alternatives for our students,” Block said. “Other campuses may not have as much of a problem with housing costs.”

UCLA’s ability to build so many homes — and charge an average of 30% below market rents — was due to several factors. It had the country. It took advantage of an era of low interest rates and favorable financing conditions – typically 20% was taken from reserves and the rest covered by tax-free bonds. The campus was also densely built up, which sometimes required taller buildings.

Unlike other campuses, UCLA has managed to avoid litigation from neighbors over its housing projects. That’s partly because the campus built most of its housing within its existing footprint by rehabilitating old buildings and removing parking lots. With more students living on campus, fewer cars are needed, resulting in less traffic and pollution in the neighborhood.

Jann Williams, a member of Holmby Westwood Property Owners Assn., said she was “disappointed” with the height of one of the new apartment buildings because it changes the street view of the iconic Fox Theatre. But neighbors have not considered litigation because developments remain on campus and UCLA has listened to community concerns, she said. The increase in student numbers over time is a little “scary,” Williams added, but “for the good of California.”

Other campuses faced harsher reactions. At UC Santa Cruz, a student family housing complex has been blocked by a lawsuit because environmentalists oppose the proposed location, an open meadow.

And at UC Santa Barbara, plans for a 4,500-bed mega dorm with tiny rooms and few windows — derisively dubbed “Dormzilla” — have sparked campus outrage and calls for a remodel.

With the opening of UCLA’s two new residence halls, Gayley Heights and Southwest Campus Apartments — and two residence halls, Olympic and Centennial, which opened last fall — the university expects to host 13,620 students on campus in 17 residential buildings in the fall of 2022. Another 9,300 graduate and undergraduate students live in off-campus apartments that have been purchased or developed over the years.

Officials describe the new apartments as real estate agents do.

Gayley Heights is a 17-story residential high-rise in one of two towers, offering views of Catalina Island and the Pacific Ocean for those lucky students who can snag an upper floor room. It features modern, clean lines and preferred materials of wood, stone, steel and glass with polished concrete floors and vinyl planks for durability. The first floor includes a large communal study area and opens onto a courtyard with an outdoor grill, fairy lights and palm planters. Each unit offers one to four bedrooms. A solar-powered instantaneous water heater saves both heating costs and water consumption. The cost for a school year ranges from about $12,400 for a four-person, four-bedroom unit to about $6,700 for a four-person, one-bedroom unit.

The exterior of a large condominium

Gayley Heights is a new student housing complex on the UCLA campus.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

The Southwest Campus Apartments are still under construction but will feature a courtyard with olive and citrus trees, a 4,500-square-foot multipurpose room with a giant flat-screen TV for viewing together, and a teaching kitchen where students can learn to cook. The space is also intended as a place where employers can meet and recruit college graduates. Prices range from about $12,400 for a four-bedroom unit that sleeps four to about $8,900 for a four-bedroom unit that sleeps eight.

The two dormitories that opened last fall offer mostly triple rooms with shared bathrooms and no kitchens, but the construction boom will allow UCLA to reduce that density in its housing program to accommodate more double rooms. A triple room with 11 meals a week costs about $14,000 for the school year.

Rohan Saklani, a first-year student from Simi Valley, shares a two-bedroom apartment on Rieber Terrace with five roommates. He said life on campus has been good – too good in a way, having gained the dreaded ‘Freshman 15’ pounds by making pasta at new Epicuria restaurant, which focuses on cuisines centered around the Mediterranean swallows. He has joined the Bruins Sports Analytics Club, where he combines his love of sports and data science. Living, studying and socializing with other high-performing students helps him work hard, he said.

“You’re in a place with smart people doing their jobs and that inspires you to stand up,” he said. “You’re surrounded by people who want to be successful in life, and that drives you to do the same.”

Pete Angelis, UCLA’s associate vice chancellor of housing and hospitality, said the campus living experience is far more than just a bed to sleep in, it’s even a “maker space” where students de-stress and use their creativity to create projects 3D printers, laser cutters, woodworking equipment, embroidery and sewing machines.

A student uses a sewing machine in a craft room

A student uses a sewing machine in a maker space in new student housing at UCLA.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Research has underscored the importance of life on campus. A University of Oregon study of 34,000 full-time first-year students who enrolled between 2006 and 2014 found that those who spent their freshman academic year in campus housing had higher GPAs, higher retention and graduation rates, and faster graduation times. These students also reported greater satisfaction with life, had a greater sense of social belonging, were more engaged in extracurricular activities, and typically sought out resources on campus for help.

“Only about 20% to 30% of learning actually happens in the classroom,” said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA’s vice provost for enrollment management. “It’s what students do with their time outside of the classroom that enhances their experience and their focus on their academics through internships, collaboration and living in a shared apartment with students from diverse backgrounds from over 90 different countries and all 50 States strengthens. learning from others.”

Robert Snipes, a Paso Robles sophomore, couldn’t agree more. He said living on campus has allowed him to befriend people from all over the world, including South Korea and India, which has made him a more empathetic, outgoing person. It has also helped him find his passions through an on-campus computer science honor society and Bruins Opposing Speciesism, an animal rights organization.

Mariya Klymenko, a Marin County freshman major in biochemistry, said campus life was everything she imagined. Her roommates have become her best friends. Her living floor has hosted field trips to the California Science Center, a tour of the campus laboratory facilities, and parties for Halloween and the Super Bowl. She has also joined student government as a representative of on-campus living.

“It all adds to the overall university experience and helped me find my place here,” she said.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-17/amid-student-housing-crisis-ucla-becomes-first-uc-campus-to-guarantee-beds Amid the housing crisis, UCLA becomes the first UC to guarantee beds

Dais Johnston

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