After a new state law enables UC Berkeley to exceed its court-ordered enrollment limit, incoming freshman Angela Huynh is relieved. After all, she was going to attend the school of her dreams.
But the housing shortage that led to the registration freeze in the first place has not gone away. Nor has the battle between Berkeley residents and the university over how to address these issues. The students are still stuck in the middle.
For non-domesticated students, enrollment at Berkeley presents difficulties that complicate daily academic life at a coveted prestigious university.
Huyhn is still excited to go to Berkeley in the fall, but is worried about where she will live after her first year. First-year students are guaranteed housing in the dormitory. She, like many others, wishes to find solutions to the problem of housing shortages.
“I feel like overcrowding doesn’t happen out of nowhere,” she said. “As if it had been this way for a long time.”
As a freshman at Silver Creek High School in San Jose, Hoyen heard stories and read reports in the local media about the housing shortage in Cal. Students endure two-hour commutes in cars and public transportation, pay thousands of dollars a month to get a bed in a crowded house, surf the couch at friends’ homes, and even live in their cars.
Sabrina Hwang Lan Jones calls herself a “double bear” for attending UC Berkeley for her undergraduate studies and is currently in law school.
“Since I got guaranteed housing in my first year as a college student, housing has been a struggle,” Jones said. “In my senior year, I was in a one-bedroom apartment with four daughters, two in the bedroom and two in the living room.” The cost per person was $800 per month.
Currently, Jones lives in a room alone, but the building offers a shared kitchen and bathroom. However, finding this place was not easy. Every year it scans websites, including Craigslist and other Berkeley housing pages, all riddled with scams. She believes that the most reliable list is the Google Spreadsheet prepared by Berkeley students.
Not only is it difficult to find a suitable place to live, but landlords do not always welcome a nine-month lease to align with the university’s academic calendar.
“I am fortunate to live relatively near Berkeley to visit apartments in person, but I often have to make more than one trip to visit six to 10 apartments,” Jones said.
UC Berkeley’s housing shortage and admission policies pit residents who want the university to build more student housing before accepting more students against the university, which it argues has been building housing and does not want to turn thousands of students away from its next new class.
Phil Bukovoy, president of neighborhood group Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, says the group will continue to push the school with more litigation. He was disappointed that they were unable to obtain a legally binding commitment to build affordable housing.
There are 9,000 beds and 45,000 students. “They need housing compensation and they shouldn’t keep adding more to Berkeley unless they can catch up,” Bukovoy said. Residents cited more traffic, litter, noise and other effects of Berkeley’s increased student numbers.
From 2013 to 2021, the university increased the number of students admitted annually by about 3,000 students. UC Berkeley launched a housing initiative in 2018 to address the housing shortage and has a number of projects in the pipeline.
The university has acknowledged the existence of a student housing crisis. “We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build as much student housing as possible as close to campus as possible,” said Dan Mogolov, associate vice chancellor.
“It will ensure that there are beds and dormitories for all freshmen and sophomores,” he said. For transfer students, the university has begun construction of a large student residence hall. “We are going to start building another 1,000-bed student residence in People’s Park. We have just brought online fresh graduate housing in Emeryville,” Mogulof said.
This is a bit of a relief for students who need accommodation now. They continue to live out of their cars, in substandard housing or face long commutes that separate them from other students, faculty, and activities on campus.
Adam Ratliff, assistant director of media relations, critical communications and student affairs, said students who are struggling to find housing have the resources on hand to help meet basic needs.
“The well-being of our students is paramount, and we want to make sure that students know that there are resources available throughout the year,” he said. The university offers services including a pantry and emergency rental assistance program. Students can also get help accessing external services such as the Basic Needs Center, and a peer-to-peer program, Bears for Financial Success, which provides workshops on helping students manage finances.
Berkeley Co-op housing supervisor Betsy Putnam offers affordable housing independent of the university, with 20 homes serving the area. The largest Co-op houses 260 students each, and the smallest has 17.“[For] People who really need that extra hand in going to college. Putnam said finding affordable housing would make a difference in their ability to attend Cal University or another local university. Even with on-campus resources available, some students are concerned about how they will find housing.
Newcomer students like Huyhn, a Silver Creek High graduate, hope the situation will improve before she graduates from UC Berkeley in 2026.
She said, “If I am without housing in the coming years, I will have to travel several times a week from San Jose just to attend classes.”
Tara Nguyen graduated in 2022 from Silver Creek High School and will attend Emerson College in the spring.