Representatives from several student-run organizations discuss their efforts to combat housing insecurity for Davis students
Winter Quarter is typically when students begin looking for housing for the next school year. This process can be daunting enough as it is, especially for first-time renters, but even more so due to the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic. Several student-run organizations are working to tackle different student housing challenges.
ASUCD Housing Advising for Undergraduate Students (HAUS) helps students to connect with property managers and learn about housing resources. Citlali Plaza, a third-year community and regional development major and the Unit Director for HAUS, said that their main event for Winter Quarter, Housing Day, was a week-long virtual event. During the week of Feb. 22 to Feb. 26, students listened to student panelists, met potential housemates, learned about renter rights and met with property managers to find a suitable home in Davis.
“It’s really a helpful event to know what to be prepared [for] when looking at a lease,” Plaza said. “Davis is a really unique setting where the vacancy rate is so low that you’re kind of thrown into this market, usually in the winter. For first-year students, especially, this is their first time leasing. And, especially with COVID, there’s a lot of questions about what it’s like to break out of a lease, what’s allowed under lease, or changes to rent.”
According to Plaza, COVID-19 has played a significant role in student housing, as many students decided to move back home. As a result, they had to figure out whether they could sublease their apartments in Davis. In addition to this, many students and their families were financially impacted, increasing the burden of rent.
Another organization that seeks to address these issues is ASUCD’s Housing Task Force. This task force acts as a coalition between different offices of ASUCD, including the Executive Office and the Student Advocate’s Office. Allie O’Brien, a third-year sociology and political science double major, is the ASUCD Executive Office Chief of Staff and oversees the Housing Task Force. O’Brien noted that one of their earliest projects during the COVID-19 pandemic involved working with landlords to create more flexible lease terms for students who did not want to sign a full year’s lease.
O’Brien is also the co-founder of Aggie House, a transitional housing shelter opening this fall. While Aggie House is separate from ASUCD and the university, it aims to provide free temporary housing for UC Davis students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. They are currently raising funds for this project and are seeking donations. They are also taking on volunteers, with their second round of recruitment opening in spring quarter.
“We’re going to be considering a lot of factors, such as whether folks are experiencing homelessness, unsafe living conditions or domestic violence,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to try to do a holistic overview of what all of our applicants are facing, and try to accommodate those with the most need.”
In addition to supporting the work of the Housing Task Force, O’Brien stated that Davis community members can help by normalizing conversation around housing insecurity. According to a Housing Affordability and Insecurity Survey done by ASUCD and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) in the 2017-2018 year, 7% of Davis students were experiencing homelessness and 18% were experiencing housing insecurity.
“If people don’t know these numbers exist, then we won’t be able to destigmatize it and actually get people resources,” O’Brien said. “So talking about it is really important and has more of an impact than one might think.”
Another student-run organization, Homeless Outreach through Prevention and Education (H.O.P.E.) works directly with the homeless population. Megan Shen, a fourth-year global disease biology major and president of H.O.P.E., stated that their main goals are to provide resources and information to improve the quality of life for those who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, as well as to destigmatize homelessness. They do so by hosting community events, such as providing free haircuts in Central Park for unhoused Davis community members.
“It’s definitely not impossible to learn how to advocate for these individuals,” Shen said. “It just takes someone with compassion and who wants to speak up for an often marginalized and neglected community.”
H.O.P.E. became more involved with student housing insecurity about one year ago, when they formed a committee within their organization that focuses on student resources. They also have a seat at the Basic Needs Advisory Committee, which is primarily made up of UC Davis faculty and staff. While H.O.P.E. does not directly provide aid to students, they act as a liaison between students and the university to support those who are seeking resources.
“Davis has been lucky, at least in terms from a student perspective, in that we have the Basic Needs Center to help out with housing resources and to support housing insecure students,” Shen said. “There are individuals here on campus who are really passionate about helping them. If they don’t feel comfortable, they could always reach out to organizations like H.O.P.E. to help redirect them to resources.”
ASUCD is also working to revive the Davis Housing Discrimination Committee, which focuses on outreach and advocacy for UC Davis students and helps them understand their rights as renters in the city of Davis. The committee will also support students in taking measures against inequitable actions by landlords in collaboration with the city of Davis and housing authorities. While this committee has been dormant for years, Senator Maahum Shahab, a second-year international relations major, is currently working to revive it.
“My focus is figuring out how it will fit into the scope of everything that’s housing advocacy related going on right now already under ASUCD,” Shahab said. “For example, the Housing Task Force is doing amazing work, but we don’t know if the next president is going to keep that task force. I want there to be some sort of long-lasting body that is dedicated toward housing advocacy. The Davis Housing Discrimination Committee has a specific niche of housing advocacy that I would love to see revived and more permanent on campus for the years to come.”
The Davis Housing Discrimination Committee recently closed applications for a committee chair. The role will involve recruiting members to build up the committee, as well as determine what specific projects they would like to carry out. These will involve making sure that students are knowledgeable about the opportunities they have to seek fair housing and are treated respectfully by their landlords.
While it can be intimidating to attempt to tackle the systemic issue of housing insecurity in Davis, Shahab stated that even taking small steps can make a big impact.
“It’s really important to take those little steps, even if it doesn’t feel like a lot,” Shahab said. “Every little piece of input counts, and the more you push for something, the more that you put effort into something, the more likely you’ll be heard. The louder you raise your voice, the more likely they’ll listen.”
Written by: Liana Mae Atizado— firstname.lastname@example.org