UC Berkeley helping students though annual housing crunch with more beds, rental tips

By Public Affairs

BERKELEY--The beginning of classes is nearly a month away, but University of California, Berkeley, students are already facing the annual "crunch time" to secure fall housing.

"We know how hard it can be to find housing in this market, especially this year, and we are doing all we can to make it easier on our students," said Sondra Jensen, director of administrative services for the campus's housing office.

The campus is converting some double-occupancy residence hall rooms to triple occupancy, bringing the total number of beds available to 5,100 - the most ever. Plans are also underway to add at least 500 new bed spaces by 2003. In addition, arrangements have been made to house some students at Mills College and Samuel Merritt College in Oakland.

Campus officials recognize that as housing prices climb and vacancy decontrol tightens the rental market in the city of Berkeley, students can have a challenging time finding housing.

To help, the Community Living office, which coordinates rental listings, is holding special Saturday hours, and students are offered counseling on a variety of house-hunting tricks and tips.

The office assists about 500 students each day with updated rental listings and advice that ranges from suggesting that students dress in business-like apparel when meeting potential landlords, to how to prepare a "tenant resume."

In addition, said Jensen, "We are helping another 800 students a day through e-mail updates." Students who register for the e-mail service provide the parameters for their housing needs and as new listings come into the office that match those needs, the students are e-mailed the listings, said Jensen.

With rental housing in high demand and rents rising, Jensen said she anticipates students will be sharing housing more than ever. In the city of Berkeley, where vacancy decontrol went into effect in January, rents are up significantly.

Based on figures from the campus's rental listing services, average monthly rent for a studio apartment has gone up from $630 in June 1998 to $761 in June 1999. One-bedroom apartments now average $1,012 a month and two-bedroom apartments average $1,426. Jensen added that some Berkeley apartments are now advertised with commentary that the rent will be subject to a bidding process.

"Last summer, the attention given the plight of students struggling to find housing resulted in additional rentals offered in the community," said Jensen. "We are hopeful that property owners in the Berkeley area will once again respond by calling 642-3644 to place rental ads."

But, she added, students may find they need to look farther afield for more affordable housing this year. Oakland, El Cerrito and anywhere along the BART lines may be good options, she said.

Higher rents are only part of the reason students are more eager than ever to live in campus residence halls. Improvements in campus housing in recent years include computer network and cable TV hookups in all rooms, recent renovations, new academic centers with tutors and state-of-the-art equipment, plus more variety in the meal plans, including vegetarian options at all meals.

Prices range from $7,000 a year, including meals, for a bed in a triple room, to $10,000 a year for a single room in a suite, including meals.

UC Berkeley guarantees on-campus housing for all new freshmen and transfer students. But the demand from returning students is growing each year.

To better meet that demand, the campus is moving ahead on projects to build 500 new bed spaces by August 2003, said Assistant Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande, who oversees Residential and Student Service Programs.

The projects include:

o A 200-bed apartment complex on Channing Way, where the campus's Parking and Transportation Services office is now located.

o A 100-bed apartment complex on the corner of College and Durant Avenues, at the present site of a parking lot.

o New buildings at Units 1 and 2 (residence halls located in the south campus area), with at least 100 bed spaces added at each unit.

Although it can be hard to find housing, Jensen said, within a few weeks of classes students are usually settled in. To help during the search, however, faculty and staff will be asked to open spare rooms or sofa beds to shelter students during the days or weeks they search for housing.

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