Davis Housing Crisis and the International Community, Part 2

By Nathalie Mvondo

The following is an Interview of an International scholar who asked to remain anonymous.

Would you say it’s difficult for international students to find housing in Davis?

Yes

If yes, please explain your answer.

One of our basic needs, as human beings, is to have a shelter. I reasoning from the fact that once you have met your basic needs, you are able to create, work, study, and improve your social net, among others.  Taking this into consideration, for me, as an international student, it was very frustrating and stressful; I was disappointed in the fact that it was very difficult to find a house in Davis.

From my perspective, I can list many factors related to my situation; however, in order to summarize them, below are six relevant factors that are part of the problem:

  • Scattered Information

Even though there are many sources of information about housing, I spent entire weekends back in my country trying to understand the “housing and rental system” of Davis and the United States.  I discovered sources with information that mentioned other sources, and sometimes the information was contradictory and confusing. I had to systematize all the information and create my own “database” with webpages, including the information each provided.

  • Rent Fees

How can I afford a rental fee that is even more expensive than the basic salary for an entire family in my country? This was the first question that came to my mind when I was looking for a place to live.

After the initial shock caused by the housing market prices, I found cheaper but still expensive rooms available, but with specific restrictions, and not the best conditions. I wondered if I was ready to “sacrifice” the access to a private bathroom, the closeness of the place in relation to the university, the space of a private room, the lack of kitchen, etc.  My point is also that if you are single, you may adjust yourself to any kind of conditions, but that is not the case if you bring your family (spouse and/or kids).

  • Lease Length

Most of the ads I found had a mandatory requirement for a year lease contract. For some students this kind of timeframe can work; however, the system should be flexible enough to allow the tenants to move to a place with better conditions if they are available.  When you sign a contract, you will have to stay for an entire year or find another person to take over your lease, which of course is challenging and difficult.

In addition to what I mentioned, the annual lease contract is not addressing the needs of the hundreds of students who come to UC Davis for less than a year. As a student who will just stay for less than a year, you will be forced to move from one place to another by playing with the “last minute” announcements of people with specific dates availability.

  • Fraud

Not just once, not twice, but three times I came across thieves who tried to fool me with fake ads about convenient rooms for rent.  These scammers not only wrote to me, but they even published pictures of empty houses “available” for rent.

It was very tricky to identify if the ads were real, and I almost sent money to one of the supposed landlords, who had asked for the security deposit, in order to reserve the place for me.

  • “In-Campus” Housing Options

The campus housing options are ideal and relatively cheap; the university has indeed made an effort for the benefits of the students.  However, these options are only available for freshman or “formal” students.  If you are an exchange student, there is not a chance to have access to them.  Considering how many students come to Davis every year, I think that the University should address the need for increased housing options within the campus.

  • Impact of the High Demand for Foreign Students

As part of the market system, as long as there is a demand the cost can keep growing and growing.  Considering that there seems to be no regulation about the maximum fees for students in Davis [from the student point of view], there are triggers that increase that problem:

  1. a) In the University there are many students with very wealthy backgrounds, who can afford very expensive rents,
  2. b) Even if you cannot afford the housing price you will find a way to do it (bank loan, family help, saving money from expenses you must do like “good food”, etc.), and
  3. c) Because there are no other options!

As an international student, the challenges mentioned above are heightened, sometimes, by two additional factors:

  1. a) Dealing with a language that is not your native one, and
  2. b) Being far away from Davis when you’re looking for housing, and not even knowing your possible landlord, housemates, real conditions of the house, etc.

3-         What do you think could be a solution to the current housing crisis, in regards to the International community?

I think there is more than one solution for such a big and complex problem.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Create an entire diagnosis of the problem from different perspectives of stakeholders (international students, local community, house owners, housing department of UC Davis).
  2. In a participatory process, a plan should be designed. The possible solutions in the Plan may include: new housing constructions (not only because there are not enough rooms for all the students but also to decrease the prices in the market as a result of demand & offer), and new constructions inside and outside of the campus!
  3. Create awareness within the home owner community! Is it fair that for greed some families benefit from renting rooms to students at such high prices?
  4. Establish an integral plan to help low income students! Everyone should help somehow; the plan should include all the stakeholders with different roles and responsibilities: fundraising events, extra fee from students from high income families to help the other ones, find ways in which students “can pay” their fee by community service during weekends? All of this to create a healthy community! Loans for vulnerable students with low or zero interest rates. “Housing scholarships” for those who cannot afford a house, but show high grades or work in a library, facilities in the university, etc.
  5. Provide clear information about housing sources in Davis for students.
  6. Help international students to find houses not only by confirming that a housing ad is not fake, but also by giving a mean to check the place and its conditions (maybe having a tour of the place via skype, or else).
  7. Improved public transportation to mobilize and/or motivate students to move to Woodland or Sacramento, that are faster, free and easily accessible!

Davis Housing Crisis and the International Community, Part 1

Nathalie Mvondo is a local writer, founder, and community organizer with a passion for cultural diversity and cooking. She writes about various topics on her blog, MultiCulturalism Rocks!, shares multicultural and multilingual books in various venues via her pop-up store, founded MultiCultural Press Inc – a multilingual story app for kids and families, in development -, and with friends co-founded the Davis Network for Africa (DNA) – a networking platform for the African Diaspora and friends of Africa.  She is a board member of the Davis Vanguard.


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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7 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I especially liked some of the more out of the box thinking about creative rental compensation such as work in the community for housing subsidies. I think that many of these students might be willing to meet other community needs in return for return for rent subsidization. One well defined community need would be tutoring for students at Montgomery or other elementary schools. I am sure that there are many groups that would benefit from a reliable “volunteer” whose activities were partially motivated by rent reduction.

  2. Alan Miller

    > Is it fair that for greed some families benefit from renting rooms to students at such high prices?

    Love to hear people’s thoughts on that statement.

    > Everyone should help somehow; the plan should include all the stakeholders with different roles and responsibilities: fundraising events, extra fee from students from high income families to help the other ones, find ways in which students “can pay” their fee by community service during weekends . . .

    Love to hear people’s thoughts on that statement.

      1. Alan Miller

        Well, KIND of . . . it’s not directed at apartments, it’s directed at families with homes . . . like what? — they should lower the rent for international students, because homeowners are automatically greedy in asking for market rate?

        In my experience with three international students as housemates in the last few years, one seemed ridiculously rich (Uber rides and Amazon packages arriving regularly), while two others seemed to be on a shoestring budget to complete their schooling.  I simply advertised a room at a rate and talk to who responds . . . is one to charge more to an international student who seems to have money, stick it in a special bank account, and use that to subsidize future housemates who seem less well off . . . how on earth would one confirm any of that?  How does one advertise a room at different rates for the perceived level “well offness” for people from around the world?  IT — just doesn’t work that way!

        1. Howard P

          Sounds like Alan, you’ve done as my grandparents did… they did not do the “all the market would bear” thing… they too, had a range for ‘ability to pay folk’ … some Brahmin, some Untouchables… they paid the basically agreed on rate, and if they wanted to py a bit more, my GP’s fed them… if not, they had full kitchen priveleges to buy and prepare their own food (some were strict vegetarians, and chose that option).

          Thinking that kind of model may be appropriate now, both of international students, and other students… would seriously consider doing that, but at this point, we have ‘fledgelings’… maybe ‘out of the nest’, maybe not… not ready to close the “nest bedrooms”…

          Perhaps there is a way we can “incentivize” that model… no business license fees, minimal no other conditions… my GP’s had to deal with neither…

        2. Alan Miller

          I’m not doing any such thing . . .

          . . . nor do I understand what you are proposing. Some people don’t charge what they can. They are rare.

        3. Howard P

          Alan… I thought I was affirming you… which I intended to do… who was your 8:19 post directed to?

          As a former landlord of a SF house, I covered our costs, plus a little (and I do mean “little”… less than 2%)… but we did not intend it to be income… we wanted to preserve the house for descendants (or us to downsize to)… they turned out not to want it… so, we sold it… we decided we will not live in Davis for 10 more years… after 40 previous years in this community…

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