Why I’m commuting instead of living on campus

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I hear people on my dorm floor and across campus congregating to discuss housing options for sophomore year.

“Let’s do on-campus apartments!”

“No, no more UC Berkeley housing — let’s find something on Northside. It’s a lot nicer, and there’s more housing to choose from.”

“Everything is so expensive! We’re going to have to fit five or six of us in a two-bedroom apartment.”

A girl shows her friend a potential housing option in Downtown Berkeley. The lavish complex is out of their price range.

A group of four boys tries to figure out if housing they saw listed on Craigslist was reliable. Many students scour through various housing sites such as Zillow and Apartments.com to find any viable housing at all.

When the time comes again for students to buzz around the city of Berkeley searching in vain for what seems like perfect housing, they can’t afford to be picky, especially when dealing with high prices, limited options and safety issues.

I could choose to go through this hassle, or I could take the easy way out and commute from home. I’m choosing the latter.

Let me start off by saying that dorm life is overrated. UC Berkeley proudly trumpets its housing application to unsuspecting freshmen, luring them in with convenience, a life in compliance with tradition and a sense of community. As enticing as it sounded once, I’m not falling for it again. Dorm living is characterized by countless non-ideal living situations, a far lower level of cleanliness than most students should be comfortable with (many either choose to ignore it, get used to it or don’t know the dorms are as dirty as they really are) and facilities that never work like they’re supposed to. Compared to other colleges, UC Berkeley has more students on average in each room, and the price per person is significantly higher than what the normal college student would pay for a triple occupancy room.

I’m one of the few students lucky enough to be from the Bay Area. My hometown is no more than an hour’s ride by BART, and it costs slightly more than $11 for me to travel here and back. As a matter of fact, I do it every weekend. Commuting from home at most five days a week is much cheaper than paying anywhere from $800 to $2,000 a month for housing in Berkeley. Plus, I get the unparalleled comfort of my own home, my own bed and bathroom, my friends back home, more time spent with my parents and home-cooked food. It’s a win-win-win-win-win-win situation.

Another issue with living in Berkeley is the astronomical cost of living in the city. It’s no secret that housing here is scarce, and what housing is available has insane prices. It’s a never-ending economic disaster. More housing in Berkeley is constantly being proposed to be built, but it’s at the expense of existing buildings, and new housing struggles to fit into the already crowded urban sprawl of the city. Students are forced to rely on their parents to help them cover costs, and some end up not being able to live in housing at all. As a student from a middle-class family, Berkeley housing costs are barely affordable coupled with tuition and are less than optimal.

This brings me to the fact that there’s a startling lack of privacy in Berkeley housing, even after you’ve moved out of the dorms. It’s not uncommon for a quad room to be advertised in an off-campus apartment. I’ve seen photos of bedrooms fitted with bunk beds when they would normally house one bed and one person. What happened to the independent life? There are few single rooms available and even fewer private living spaces where you have your own kitchen and bath. I wouldn’t want to pay nearly $1,000 a month to live in a room I share with two strangers because the space available and my price range are limited. It shouldn’t have to be this way.

That’s why I’m commuting my sophomore year and beyond. I can afford to, not just with cost but with time and energy. It’ll give me a piece of mind. Maybe in the future, I’ll join the futile search for good housing here in Berkeley. That’s not to say that it’s impossible. If you are OK with living in close contact with people beyond your freshman years, then there isn’t a big problem. You’ll just have to be willing to settle a lot. For someone who has better options (and, unfortunately, higher expectations), finding a place to live in Berkeley will always lead me to turn up empty-handed. Until the housing situation in Berkeley improves, living on my own can wait.

Contact Pooja Bale at [email protected] .