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Housing crunch goes to college

Due to an enrollment wave that hit before new student housing developments could be completed, the very first thing new UCSD undergrads learn at the school might be the true meaning of the word “cozy.”

Housing at all six of UCSD’s undergraduate colleges is cramped this year, the result of an ever-growing demand for enrollment coupled with the school’s pledge to house all of its incoming freshmen on campus. Out of all the University of California campuses, UCSD was second only to UCLA in terms of the number of applications it received last year, and its total undergraduate enrollment is up to more than 21,000.

Of those undergrads, between 34 and 36 percent live on campus, according to UCSD Housing and Dining Services Director Mark Cunningham. The school promises on-campus housing for all incoming freshmen, and it will house about 94 percent of freshmen on campus this year. But until new housing developments are completed, beginning with an 800-bed complex set for completion next May, a large number of those students will be living in quarters packed much tighter than they were ever intended to be.

More than 700 dorm rooms on the UCSD campus intended for two students have been set up to house three this year.

“Muir and Sixth colleges are the most heavily impacted, but it’s not just a challenge for Muir and Sixth,” Cunningham said. “All six colleges have triples.”

At Muir College, more than 140 rooms meant for two students are currently housing three. Muir College freshman Matt Datlen said he requested to live with a particular roommate before moving into the residence halls. His request was granted, but a third student was assigned to the room as well.

“It’s pretty cramped,” Datlen said. “There’s not much room to do anything. But it’s bearable.”

Cunningham said the students placed in triple rooms were chosen largely based on when they submitted their application for student housing.

“The earlier you apply for housing, the higher the probability of being assigned to your preferred type of housing and, conversely, the lower the probability of being assigned to a triple space,” he said.

Students living in triple rooms are given a break on rent costs designed to make the rooms revenue-neutral, Cunningham said. The school works out the cost of maintaining the space and gives all three students an equal discount. Datlen said his savings work out to about two dollars per day, which he didn’t feel was enough to make up for the almost complete lack of privacy in his triple room.

“It’s not worth it,” Datlen said. “I’d rather spend the money (for a double room).”

Relief for the on-campus housing crunch at UCSD should be on the way soon. An 800-bed complex on the eastern side of campus should be complete by May 2007. The school plans to break ground on a 1,006-bed apartment complex on the north side of the campus some time in summer of next year.

Cunningham said UCSD has more projects lined up after those two that will get started depending on when the university is able to secure financing for the projects. UCSD Housing is a self-supporting enterprise financed wholly by the rents it receives from its tenants and receives no money from state government or from the university.

The school will need more development, however, if it is going to meet the housing goals in its long-range development plan. The plan has the university housing 50 percent of the total student population.

With about 65 percent of undergrads currently living off campus, the university will have to keep adding beds to keep up with ever-increasing demand.

“I believe the demand to be here will continue to be very high, but we are confident we can effectively meet that demand,” Cunningham said.

The recent on-campus housing crunch has had little impact on the school’s closest neighbor, La Jolla. In the last five years, the number of students living in La Jolla has dropped slightly from about 9 percent to 8 percent, Cunningham said. The most significant trend the school is seeing in off-campus housing is in University City, where the number of UCSD students in residence has increased by about 8 percent since 2000.

Freshman Datlen said he had not yet considered where he will live after his freshman year, but the idea of living in La Jolla wasn’t very popular among his fellow students. Although he prefers a double room, he considered himself lucky since he gets along well with his two assigned roommates.

“Some people got pretty unlucky, with two people who don’t talk or something,” he said. “Overall, it’s good times.”