UC Irvine‘s expansion of a residence hall is expected to generate revenue to fund housing subsidies for around 480 low-income students.
The Mesa Court residence hall expansion project will provide an additional 300 new beds for first and second-year undergraduate students by 2025, adding to the 3,100 existing beds already in that housing community.
The revenue from the project will be used “to create, in essence, housing grants for students who are in need,” said Tim Trevan, UCI’s assistant vice chancellor for student housing.
The university is still working “through the financing decisions, which will impact the amount of revenue we receive from the project. Once the financial details are worked out, we will have more information,” Sheri Ledbetter, director of internal and critical communications at the university, said.
The funding will be earmarked for UCI’s financial aid department, which will identify 486 students who need affordable housing. Trevan said students won’t have to apply for the aid, once identified they will automatically receive the subsidy.
The expansion project is expected to cost $65 million, Trevan said, with funding coming from a state grant targeted at students “who have difficulty paying for housing while they are in college.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom approved $2 billion in 2021 for a housing program aimed at California’s college campuses, creating a grant fund to address affordable needs. It allocated 50% of the money toward community colleges, 30% to colleges within the California State system and 20% to those under the University of California umbrella.
State-funded programs like this, Trevan said, enable UCI to serve more students given the high costs of construction and rising interest rates.
A study by UCLA found 6% of students in Orange County (or approximately 30,000 students) were unhoused during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years.
At UCI, there is always a need for affordable housing, Trevan said.
While the university has not had housing grant programs, campus social workers have options available in assisting students who are unhoused, Ledbetter said.
“We, as a campus, have committed to keeping our rates lower than the surrounding market,” Trevan said.
With rentals and home costs in Orange County and throughout Southern California expensive, Trevan said, “even students who come from middle-class homes are struggling to make ends meet in college, so the need for low-income housing is pretty acute.”
The median rent in Irvine, according to property website Zillow, is $4,172 a month. The most common unit type of undergraduate housing at UCI is a double, and the room-only rate for the 2022-23 academic year is $12,120.
Adithya Ashwini Kumar, a first year economics student at UCI who also works at the Resident Housing Association on campus, welcomes the Mesa Court residence hall expansion project, saying there is “acute shortage of housing at UCI.”
“It’s not just a UCI problem, most colleges in the U.S. have a housing shortage because they are admitting record sizes of classes,” Kumar said. “I see seniors these days who are still struggling to find housing close to campus.”
Kumar also added that since UCI is a commuter school with only about 20% to 25% of the student population living in campus housing, the student housing shortage can only be fixed if the housing crisis in Orange County is fixed.
“Housing is one of the biggest barriers for students and college success, but California is working to change that,” said Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who recently visited the UCI campus and toured the site of the residence hall expansion.
The university is in the process of selecting an architect and builder for the project, Trevan said, and construction should be completed by 2025.