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Davis, California

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Soaring housing prices around UC campuses signify a contribution to gentrification

Housing crises in the nine undergraduate UC campuses make affordable housing for all hard to come by


By SABRINA FIGUEROA  — features@theaggie.org 


The University of California is known to be among one of the top educational and research institutions in the United States, with nine undergraduate campuses all across the state. In 2023, the nine campuses were ranked within the top 40 public universities in the United States, with UC Berkeley and UCLA tying for the best public university in the country and UC Davis and UC San Diego tying for the 6th best. 

College rankings by the U.S. News & World Report have given the UC schools tremendous prestige, and on top of that, these campuses are located near popular beaches or majestic redwoods that give these schools more appeal. Even UC Davis’ small town charm has been used to market the university to students, coining the phrase, “California’s College Town.”

But inside the beautiful scenery of these campuses roams a silent problem: gentrification. Gentrification occurs when there is an influx of both capital and people, according to the Urban Displacement Project — a research initiative at UC Berkeley in collaboration with UCLA. Thus, it can cause increased housing prices, crises and urban displacement of low-income residents. 

So, do the UCs contribute to gentrification around the areas they are placed in? 

Since UCs are prestigious and create a great amount of economic mobility for their students, people — and thus, capital — are constantly moving to these cities to attend these universities and benefit from their resources. For example, the UCs hit a record-breaking number of enrolled students in 2023 after the California Department of Finance urged UC to enroll more full-time students who are residents. 

More students relocating to the area means more demand for housing and consequently, more is built.

 Shane Phillips, an urban planner at UCLA, explained that areas that build more housing tend to be more affordable while areas that build less housing tend to be less affordable, following the concept of supply and demand

Although Davis has been working on creating more housing for students and residents, strict zoning laws in Davis require measures or building proposals to be passed in local elections before any land is used or anything is built, creating a barrier to affordable housing. 

In Davis, annual household incomes usually must exceed $100,000 to afford a home in the city. However, as of 2022, the median individual income in Davis is $35,091 and the median household income is $83,592. 

Additionally, since 27% of Davis residents live in poverty, these high prices add to the challenge of getting housing. 

It’s also not limited to buying a home; renting is severely impacted as well. Although renting is considered more affordable to owning a house to most Davis residents, a UC Davis housing report found that 16.6% of renter households experience excessive housing cost burdens, while another 39.4% experience severe housing cost burdens. 

On top of that, when the cheapest housing option in Davis for the year 2023 was compared to the cheapest housing option in 2010, it was found that what a “student could once afford with the same amount of money had shrunk drastically.” 

In an article for CalMatters, Alexandra Olvera, a 2021 UC Davis first-generation and Latinx alum, described her story of struggling due to Davis’ overpriced housing after her father was deported and her mother had lost her job. 

“[My family’s] income dropped considerably, and I suffered unstable housing in California my first two years in college,” Olvera stated. “Even though I worked as hard as I could to pay for housing, I was no longer able to afford a place in Davis’s incredibly overpriced housing market. I was at risk of homelessness.” 

Olvera’s experience with housing is common among minorities. A study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that the people most affected by gentrification and high housing prices were Black, Hispanic or Latinx.  

Olvera also stated that being at risk of homelessness had other implications for her future as she was an out-of-state, low-income student. 

“After losing my housing in Davis, I no longer had a California address: I lost my residency status and my financial aid, and was almost forced out of the university as a result,” Olvera said. “I could not afford to pay the exorbitant out-of-state tuition that I was suddenly on the hook for. Thankfully, [UC Davis] was able to resolve this issue — I gained my residency status back. I did not have to drop out, and my future wasn’t ruined. Many aren’t as lucky.”

The city of Davis’ housing problems are also not the first time this UC has been accused of gentrification in the greater area. 

In 2021, Sacramento Investment Without Displacement filed a lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents and UC Davis’ Aggie Square project for being built in Oak Park, Sacramento under the claims that it would contribute to gentrification. The lawsuit was later dropped, but unfortunately Aggie Square did and still does contribute to urban displacement in the Oak Park neighborhood. 

This problem does not stop in Davis, either. Many of the UC campuses face housing crises for not only their students, but the residents around the area as well. 

The average rent for apartments in UCLA’s surrounding neighborhood, Westwood, is currently $3,652, and the average rent for apartments in Berkeley is $3,224, according to reports by RentCafe — a listing service for apartments and homes. 

Fatima Mushtaq, a third-year political science major at UCLA, shared her experience with finding somewhere to live in Westwood. 

“I knew that I didn’t want to get housing outside of UCLA,” Mushtaq said. “The problem is, the apartments here are really pricey. They’re like $1,500 or $2,000 for one person, and I didn’t want to pay that much. We’re [currently] living in an apartment with seven people. Either way in LA, you have to make a sacrifice. Either you’re sharing your space or you’re spending a lot of money that you might not have.”

Mushtaq also explained that it’s apparent which areas in Westwood are gentrified and which aren’t.

“You can tell which areas are gentrified because that’s where the newer shops are,” Mushtaq said. “Where the older shops are, that’s where more of the homeless population is.” 

UC Berkeley — and the Bay Area in general — also faces a great amount of gentrification and soaring housing prices as a result. 

Namrata Paudel, a second-year cognitive science major at UC Berkeley, shared that her housing-search experience was also shaped around how many roommates she had. 

“It wasn’t super difficult for us, but that’s because [my roommates and I] had a fairly flexible budget with the four of us together and our expectations for a place were also not super high,” Paudel said. “It’s definitely harder for people looking for specific or single rooms or for people with a stricter budget.”

UC Davis, UCLA and UC Berkeley are not the only campuses having housing crises due to being in an area with many people and too little housing. In the fall of 2021, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and UC Merced had to place students in hotels due to the shortage of housing, and some even had to live in vans on the streets. 

However, it is important to note that UCs, other universities and students are not 100% to blame for gentrification in an area. There are many other factors that come into play such as the city’s proximity and access to highways or freeways, high quality elementary schools, middle schools and high schools and job market growth.

The more we know about what drives gentrification, the more we can take precautionary measures to prevent it from happening and putting even more low-income or minorities at risk of being homeless or displaced.


Written by: Sabrina Figueroa — features@theaggie.org


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