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Davis, California

Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Student-run and community organizations actively addressing student housing insecurity and homelessness in Davis

The response to the housing crisis must expand to include the university, according to involved community members


By MARIA MARTINEZ CASTRO  — features@theaggie.org 


Students across the UC systems are experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness, and despite its feel-good college town reputation, Davis is not free from a housing crisis. 

As a result, both student-run and community-based organizations are stepping up to address these critical and widespread issues. Chelina Rhee, a fourth-year communications and sociology double major, is the external co-president for Aggie House, a student-founded and student-run organization that aims to provide transitional housing for UC Davis students. 

“Housing is such a basic human right, it’s a no-brainer that everyone deserves housing,” Rhee said. “Seven percent of UC Davis students experience homelessness, and 18% of UC Davis students experience some type of housing insecurity. We really wanted to address the problem of housing insecurity because no one really seemed to be talking about it, and there were not a lot of resources for students that were facing housing insecurity.”

Aggie House began its operations in fall 2021. The organization provides students experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness with transitional housing and resources while in the process of looking for permanent housing. Through the efforts of its board members, student volunteers, donations and partnerships, Aggie House can provide its residents with resources like meals and community relationships. 

“The fact that a lot of students are worried about if they’re going to have a place to sleep at night, if they’re going to have to stay in the car [or] if they have to couch surf at a friend’s house […] all of these are concerns UC Davis students shouldn’t have,” Rhee said. “They should be focusing on their academics. They should be focusing on enjoying their college experience.” 

Robert Weiner, a continuing lecturer in the Department of Human Ecology is the executive director of the California Coalition for Rural Housing. He attests to the housing crisis happening in Davis and all over the state. 

“We have students, I’ve heard, that are experiencing housing insecurity,” Weiner said. “[They are] couch surfing, living in a car, sometimes living on the street because of the cost of housing, tuition, books, etc. It is definitely a growing crisis as the cost of education and housing go up, but student incomes are flat or decreasing.” 

Students continue to live in a climate of constantly rising and piling expenses. The causes of housing insecurity and homelessness expand beyond the individual. Numerous external factors affect students every day, such as rising housing and food prices, expensive tuition, mental health and individual financial situations. 

“A lot of these issues are systemic,” Rhee said. “Number one, UC Davis as an institution, the tuition is so high, so a lot of students are already struggling with affording tuition, and so on top of that, there’s housing insecurity. There’s not enough affordable housing for students to stay here. [It] is not the students themselves choosing to be unhoused.” 

Weiner describes it as “a constellation of different factors coming together.” 

Davis Community Meals and Housing is a community-based organization addressing food and housing insecurity at the local level. Their services include shelter housing, meal programs and basic needs resources. They are another type of on-the-ground service available to the UC Davis student population and the Davis population in general. 

Bill Pride, executive director of Davis Community Meals and Housing, said that student housing insecurity is a rising issue in recent years that the university doesn’t seem to have a solid solution for yet. 

“To be blunt, the issue of student housing insecurity and food insecurity is kind of a newer issue in town, frankly,” Pride said. “I would say this much, I don’t necessarily think the university paid a lot of attention to it for many years, even though we knew it existed. But I don’t think there were large enough numbers to pay much attention to it. I know in the last couple of years it’s become more of an issue because of local rising housing costs.” 

Addressing housing insecurity and homelessness in Davis cannot fall on student-run and community-based organizations alone. Weiner believes that UC Davis and the city of Davis are large ruling entities in town that also bear the responsibility. 

“I don’t know that any school or local government is doing enough,” Weiner said. “You always have these tensions between universities and cities or counties where they are located about whose responsibility it is to provide housing. In the case of Davis, that has been a continual debate. I think the city, over time, has tried in different ways to address the affordable housing crisis, but have they done enough? No. Has the university done enough? No. There are a lot of things the university could be doing that it isn’t doing with respect to housing.” 

Pride believes that universities have a responsibility to ensure the well-being and security of their students. 

“If you’re accepted into a university, you’re there to get an education, but somehow the university [should] take care of your needs, too,” Pride said. “You know, whether it’s through grants, student housing [or] through other things. I mean, honestly, to me, it’s a public disgrace that this is happening locally and at any university. There should be some resources put aside for folks to meet their needs so that they get the education they need and not have to worry about feeding themselves and having a place to stay.” 

While the university and the city continue working toward comprehensive solutions, organizations such as Aggie House and Davis Community Meals and Housing will continue to serve the Davis community. Rhee said that the university and city could work in conjunction with these organizations to support students.

“Our campus can make more of an effort for organizations such as Aggie House and for other resources such as Aggie Compass [by securing] more funding for [these] programs […] in the case that students are housing insecure,” Rhee said. “The dream goal is that every student in Davis has access to secure housing. But until then, we just want to try our best to help as many people as we can, even if they just need a place to stay for a week or a month or even a year. We just want to be a resource students can rely on.” 


Written by: Maria Martinez Castro — features@theaggie.org