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?
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.
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:
- a) In the University there are many students with very wealthy backgrounds, who can afford very expensive rents,
- 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
- c) Because there are no other options!
As an international student, the challenges mentioned above are heightened, sometimes, by two additional factors:
- a) Dealing with a language that is not your native one, and
- 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:
- Create an entire diagnosis of the problem from different perspectives of stakeholders (international students, local community, house owners, housing department of UC Davis).
- 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!
- 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?
- 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.
- Provide clear information about housing sources in Davis for students.
- 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).
- 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.