Just five months ago, Danny Siegel rose to the office of Undergraduate Students Association Council president and made housing affordability one of the key parts of his platform. But now, as the academic year gets underway, he can’t afford to be vague on his proposals.
Housing affordability is slowly becoming a major inconvenience for students who want to live off campus in nonuniversity-owned apartments. The median rent for a two-bedroom Westwood apartment is $4,170 a month, making it the most expensive area in Los Angeles.
In September, Siegel met with UCLA Donor Relations, which is in charge of connecting with donors, to discuss how philanthropic efforts can help ensure housing security for students. Present at the meeting were Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Life Michael Deluca and Associate Director of Development for Student Affairs Kayleigh MacPherson. Siegel said he met with these officials so the university community could address the issue of housing security and see if there were any room for growth – it was a “fact-finding” meeting.
Siegel has the right intentions by attempting to help out students in this respect, considering rent prices will only go up in the future. And to be completely fair to him, housing affordability is a tough issue to tackle, especially for a student body president. However, if he intends to go forward with his aims, he’s going to need a much more concrete plan. His team needs to focus more on who they want to reach out to and what they want from donors, instead of how they can convincingly get their point across.
The University’s response to the housing crisis hasn’t been particularly inspirational. Senior media relations officer Rebecca Kendall said in an email: “UCLA is keenly aware of the financial issues impacting students, including housing, and is continuously considering and evaluating ways to improve affordability and access.”
However, the ballooning rent prices for students living off campus aren’t exactly bearing testament to UCLA’s keenness on the issue. Earlier this year, UC President Janet Napolitano announced that 14,000 affordable beds in student housing and university apartments would be added across the UC by 2020. However, assuming that the UC also reaches its target of taking in 10,000 additional students by the start of the 2018 academic year, it won’t be able to close the gap between housing and student numbers in time. And that gap doesn’t even account for the number of UCLA undergraduate and graduate students that have been living off campus in nonuniversity housing before the start of the enrollment surge – a number that is well over 23,000.
The current approach isn’t working, and solving housing affordability will require a fresh new plan – one which Siegel can potentially provide.
Siegel feels that a visual explanation would be helpful to keep donors interested. He said that one of his areas of focus was “how the university builds out and sells itself to philanthropists who want to give back to UCLA.”
He explained it as such: Someone would go to a donor who went to UCLA in 1970 and show them a graph saying, “this is the rent in the ’70s, this is the rent right now.” He felt that visualizing the problem would convey that housing is an area of concern for students. While his line of thinking is interesting, it might not be the most effective way to go about conveying his message.
The problem is that donors are probably already aware of the rising costs of attending college as a whole. For example, UCLA lists the estimated total undergraduate budget on its website by accounting for housing. In addition, donors would also be aware to some degree that rents have risen since 1970, without a juxtaposition with the past. The fact that Westwood is much more expensive compared to the rest of Los Angeles is a selling point in itself.
Additionally, it wouldn’t be prudent for Siegel to decide how to polish the message of convincing donors to help out students – especially because UCLA Donor Relations has been in charge of reaching out to alumni and philanthropists for years. Undoubtedly, they know how to make the most convincing requests and pleas for donations. This is an area that should be left to the experts.
Siegel also said that one of the specific aims of the meeting was to see “how we can accrue more aid,” which is a vague way of aiming to secure donor help. While Siegel has said that this was just an initial, introductory meeting, he needs to lay down exactly what he wants to see in the future. The issue of Westwood housing affordability is so loaded that he will have to have multiple meetings with UCLA Student Affairs and Donor Relations to cement detailed plans, otherwise he’ll be unable to make a change within the remaining eight months of his term as president.
Moving forward, Siegel plans on putting together a proposal for UCLA Donor Relations so that they can help tackle housing affordability. This plan should be more specific than what was discussed in his earlier meeting. Reaching out to as many donors and philanthropists as possible should be the aim of the proposal.
Siegel’s team shouldn’t focus too much on the messaging, since the facts about the rent speak for themselves, as they have for many years. The focus should be on how he can fix the problem.