Silicon Valley is getting so pricey a university is pleading with professors to house students

No room here.
No room here.
Image: UCSC
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Silicon Valley’s housing crunch is expanding.

Last week, the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) emailed about 6,000 faculty members asking them to consider housing “several hundred students without housing guarantees on the waiting list for housing.” Rental properties in the beachside town are scarce, and the university admitted about 7,000 students this year, up from 5,300 last year, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“The need is real and it is urgent, so I am reaching out to the faculty and staff community for help,” the university’s executive director of housing services, Dave Keller, wrote. “Offering a room in your home to a student who has not been able to find housing for the school year would be a tremendous support to their success at UCSC.” Students in the town of 64,000 just 30 minutes from San Jose are paying $1,100 each or more per month for small rooms in a shared house, a local CBS affiliate reported.

The Bay Area’s housing woes are a direct result of the failure to add enough housing for thousands of new workers arriving for high-paying tech jobs in the region. Only 171 homes have been built for every 1,000 new people arriving in California between 2011 and 2016. Four minimum-wage jobs would be needed to pay for an apartment in the heart of Silicon Valley, the San Jose Mercury News recently found.

Local residents’ objections to new housing often stymie new development, and Santa Cruz is running into the same problem. The university is years away from building a planned 3,000 campus housing unit, but thousands of local residents have already signed a petition to stop the development, notes Curbed San Francisco. A tenured humanities professor Jim Clifford called the expansion “a radical break with 50 years of design history and practice on the campus.”

It’s the culmination of decades of local decisions throughout the region that favor existing single-family and low-density development, over cheaper apartment complexes for middle and working-class families. Kate Vershov Downing, a member of the planning and transportation commission in nearby Palo Alto, resigned in 2016 because she said its members were ignoring public pleas for more housing. “It’s clear that if professionals like me cannot raise a family here, then all of our teachers, first responders, and service workers are in dire straits,” Downing wrote on Medium. “The cost of housing is astronomical not just in Palo Alto but many miles in each direction.”

At the time, Downing noted she was leaving the city, since buying a house in Palo Alto would have cost her about $2.7 million, with an annual mortgage payment of $146,000 per year—equivalent to many professionals’ entire pre-tax income. (Zillow lists the median home price in the area in 2018 as $3.3 million.)

Her new destination? Santa Cruz.