‘A constant search’: UC Berkeley transfer students encounter setbacks in securing housing

Doug Smith/File

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For months during his junior year, campus transfer student Daniel Buehner did not know where he was going to live for his senior year at UC Berkeley. Finally, he received four emails — all informing him that there was no campus housing available for his final year. That’s when Buehner began to panic.

Buehner initially intended to live in campus housing for both his junior and senior years, but he only received an offer after the fifth round of cycles. His option? A triple room on the Clark Kerr Campus with two newly admitted freshmen.

“I (was) starting to kind of panic because I (was) already so deep in the rounds and I had no housing,” Buehner said. “And you just don’t know, and (the campus) can’t guarantee you a spot. You just wait and wait and you can go through round four and still no offer.”

In recent years, there’s been an influx of housing insecurity among UC Berkeley students — a problem that sometimes hits transfer students the hardest, Buehner said, because they have less time and fewer resources to find housing options. Many freshmen also have friends on campus, Buehner said, which allows them to search for housing together, whereas incoming transfer students may have to do it alone.

And when some transfer students, including Buehner, start their housing searches, they believe that their options are restricted to two possibilities: campus housing or an off-campus apartment.

Campus senior Johnny Merkley was admitted from the waitlist one month before he started his first semester at UC Berkeley, leaving him a mere few weeks to find a place to live.

Merkley immediately went to Craigslist to search for housing. He was shocked to see that single rooms in Berkeley went for $1,300 or $1,400, and that there were so few rooms available. He added that he didn’t know of many resources available to transfer students that could help him find housing. When he visited the Transfer Student Center to ask for advice, staff members merely recommended he use Craigslist.

Before classes started, Merkley said he couch surfed and even slept in his car for a few nights before he finally found a fraternity house to live in for his first semester.

“The entire time (before classes started), I was couch surfing,” Merkley said. “The only thing I could find was a really, really dirty frat house.”

Eventually, Merkley discovered Cal Veterans, a student group that offers resources and mentorship to veterans on campus. Now, he lives in an off-campus condo with four fellow veterans. Merkley said he wouldn’t have found the place without the veteran community.

Other transfer students said they have also had to live in uncomfortable housing situations.

When campus senior Yisel Meza first moved to Berkeley, she lived in an off-campus apartment with a male tenant whom, she said in an email, she felt uncomfortable living with. This situation was all she could find, even though she said in her email that she constantly looked online, sent thousands of messages and even flew to Berkeley to see different houses and rooms available before she started classes.

“When I first moved in and the man would say something weird I tried to avoid paying attention to him. I tried to avoid using the kitchen when he was around,” Meza said in an email. “I knew that finding another place that would accept my cat wasn’t going to be easy. I didn’t have too many options, it was my first semester (and) I needed a place.”

Although Meza now lives in South Berkeley, much farther away from campus than before, she said in her email that she feels better about where she lives. But she described the housing search as “horrible,” especially since it was the first time that she didn’t live with her family. And when she lived in her first apartment, her rent was going to be raised by $500.

“I can tell you that one part of finding housing is luck the rest is a constant search,” Meza said in her email.

Campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff said in an email that the campus recognizes that finding housing can be difficult for many students. He added that the cost of living is high for UC Berkeley students. He pointed to the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office, Cal Rentals — a team waiting to assist students in their search for additional off-campus housing options for free — and Student Legal Services, which helps students by providing counsel and guidance through the Student Legal Services Office.

Ratliff emphasized that the campus has many efforts to combat housing insecurity for students. In partnership with the Housing Master Plan Advisory Group and UC Berkeley Capital Strategies, the Division of Student Affairs is expanding the housing pool to ensure students have access to affordable housing, Ratliff said in his email. He added that the Housing Master Plan Task Force has been exploring a number of potential housing locations near campus.

According to Ratliff, there are still campus housing options available for any students in need for the 2018-19 school year. He said in his email that the majority of spaces remaining are triple rooms in Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3 and Foothill.

But Buehner said there are many students like him who did not reach out to campus entities simply because they didn’t know about them. He explained that he appreciated the work his friend, former ASUC senator Carmel Gutherz, accomplished while she was in office to advocate for the transfer student community.

Carmel was pushing for what I think it is really important — for creating a space for community where transfer students can live together and interact, because it’s unfair to expect transfer students to succeed when they’re different from everyone around them,” Buehner said.

Buehner currently lives in Casa Zimbabwe and described his experience there as the highlight of his time on campus. Buehner said he found it difficult to learn about Berkeley Student Cooperative as a transfer student but has found it to be his “silver lining.” He added that he feels he has a responsibility to inform other transfer students about the co-ops and other housing options that are available to them.

“I think it would be ideal for the campus to establish more transfer community spaces,” Buehner said. “I think there are places that are intended to be for transfers, but it’s nice to know that if you’re somewhere, you have a shared experience with people to make the transition easier for transfers in terms of housing.”

Meza, Merkley and Buehner all said that if the campus had informed them of all the different housing options available when they were accepted as transfer students, the search may have been easier for them.

“They could have told me about all the resources available and who to talk to and I could have lived on campus and I would have not had to live in my car. Pointing me in any direction would have helped,” Merkley said. “I hope more housing becomes available and (that) students, especially transfers, are made aware of resources and housing for hopefully cheaper prices.”

Jessíca Jiménez is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and and follow her on Twitter at @jesscajimenez_dc.