Navigating the Berkeley housing crisis as a transfer student

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Coming to UC Berkeley as a junior transfer, there were a certain number of adjustments I felt reasonably prepared for — shuffling through thousands of students in search of a nondescript classroom in Dwinelle Hall, pulling all-nighters and wading through creeks to avoid crossing picket lines. What I had not anticipated, however, was how treacherous and isolating the UC Berkeley housing process proved to be.

Originally, I opted for university housing. As I scrolled down the list of options for on-campus housing, I noticed that many of them were for a spot in a double or triple in a single dorm room. Immediately, I recounted the horrors of communal bathrooms, shower shoes, random fire alarms and hallway puke stains that I had experienced while residing in college dorms for two years. I had transferred from a four-year college that prioritized transfer housing, so I naively assumed that I would be able to avoid the dorms and take my pick of the on-campus apartments I had listed. After I set down my preferences, I pressed “submit,” and my application went into the administrative ether.

Shortly after my submission, I received an email informing me that I wouldn’t receive my housing assignment until the incredibly vague time frame of “late June to early July 2018,” nearly a full month after freshman students would receive their assignments. Concerned but still hopeful, I began to idealize my future existence living in an on-campus apartment. I researched various room layouts, relished how close these apartments were to my future classes and anticipated the unifying nature of living on a floor dedicated to transfer students.

All of that changed on July 5 when I received a notification on my phone for an email with the subject line “2018-2019 Housing Status.” As I skimmed the email, my heart dropped. I’d been denied a housing assignment and been instructed to “remain on the waitlist.”

As the fall semester approached, I decided against relying on the mercy of this waitlist and endeavored to find off-campus housing. Though I had heard vaguely of the Berkeley housing crisis, I didn’t know how dire this situation was until I encountered it firsthand. Everything within walking distance to campus was either dilapidated and unsafe, exorbitantly expensive or both. Even worse, I couldn’t even get an application for any of these apartment buildings, as most continuing students had already signed leases for the 2018-19 year starting in spring 2018. Throughout this process, it became increasingly clear that relying on on-campus housing, along with my status as a transfer student, had put me at a significant disadvantage.

In my quest for off-campus housing, my first stop was the UC Berkeley housing page, where I found the main resource for students seeking off-campus housing: a portal called “CalRentals.” Most of the listings on the portal, however, were for the 2018 spring semester, located in Oakland or San Francisco or advertised a single bunk bed in a room of six students. Given that I did not want to commute or live out a college version of “19 Kids and Counting,” I opted for the next tool available for UC Berkeley students — the Facebook group titled “UC Berkeley Off-Campus Housing.”

I stand by the belief that you aren’t truly a UC Berkeley student until you’ve been scammed in one way or another, and as a member of this Facebook group, I became a UC Berkeley student. As July turned into August, I became more desperate, nearly falling victim to a fraudulent listing claiming to provide “shared housing for a lower price” at luxury apartment complexes in Berkeley. Thankfully, before I signed over my identity and my first-born child to this faceless representative, my mother stepped in and halted the process. We scoped out the address that the company listed as their “national headquarters,” which was actually a minute office building that belonged to another company. When we searched the address on Google Maps later, all that was shown was a parking lot between two buildings. Needless to say, my housing search continued.

Eventually, two weeks before orientation, I managed to find a great apartment building that was only a five-minute walk to campus. But my housing search was still an anxiety-inducing first chapter of my transition to UC Berkeley, and my hardships exposed the gaping blind spots that the campus has regarding the transfer student experience. UC Berkeley needs to increase transfer housing priority, create more on-campus housing structures, aid the off-campus housing search more comprehensively and take a more active approach in protecting their students from housing scams. Otherwise, transfer students who, like me, are denied housing mere months before their very first class, will continue to suffer an undue burden.

Contact Meghan Mariani at [email protected] .