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UCLA’s university housing projects are unlikely to reduce rent rates in Westwood

The introduction of new university housing over the next few years will at best only slow down rising rents, UCLA housing experts said. With the highest rent in California, Westwood Village can be prohibitively expensive for students who cannot live in university housing. (Amy Dixon/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Thet Lin Tun

Dec. 9, 2019 3:03 a.m.

Several university housing projects set to be completed in the next few years are unlikely to lower rent costs in Westwood, experts say.

Westwood Village has been rated the most expensive place to rent in California. The high cost of rent can be burdensome for students, especially those who must live off campus. At the same time, a growing percentage of students on the Hill are expected to live in triple-occupancy dorms.

UCLA Housing previously announced its goal to guarantee four years of university housing for first-year students and two years for transfer students as part of its 2016-2026 master plan, which states its primary goals for housing development over the next 10 years.

To reach this target, UCLA Housing has begun construction on three new projects expected to create over 5,000 beds for undergraduate and graduate students. However, experts said these projects will do little to reduce rent costs for private housing in Westwood.

The first of these housing projects is the Lot 15 Residence Hall, which will include two eight-level mid-rise structures that will provide on-campus housing for first- and second-year undergraduates, according to the UCLA Housing website.

The second housing project is the Southwest Campus Apartments, three 8-to-10 story buildings that will provide 321 graduate beds and 1,958 upper-division undergraduate beds. The last of these housing projects is the 10995 Le Conte Avenue Apartments, which will provide 1,167 beds for upper-division undergraduate students.

UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services said in a statement that the rates for its housing units are not determined by the private rental market. University housing rates are determined to ensure that UCLA Housing & Hospitality remains self-financing, meaning they aim to secure funding to maintain current buildings while also gathering enough funds for future projects.

The current rates for UCLA Housing units range from $7,715.52 per academic year for a hall-style dorm to $16,872 per academic year for a university apartment. These rates do not include meal plans or social fees.

Dana Cuff, an architecture, urban design and urban planning professor at UCLA, said she does not believe that the new housing projects will have any effect on rent in Westwood. Cuff, who is also the director of cityLAB UCLA, said this is because the demand for housing in Westwood is disproportionately higher than the supply, which creates pent-up demand. However, she added that these projects could slow down the increase in rent.

“There’s such a housing crisis and such pent-up demand, particularly among students … to live near campus, that as soon as these new apartments come, they will be snapped up. … It is not likely to pressure rents downwards,” she said. “If I were to predict, I’d say rent might not continue to go up at the same rate, it would slow down rent increases … that would be a good result.”

Michael Lens, an urban planning and public policy associate professor at UCLA, said the effect of these new housing projects will be minimal.

“I think that the impact will be very, very small, and close to nothing on the private market,” he said. “You are trying to play catch to very slow construction activity over recent years – and decades even – in this part of town. … It is not a very big change in supply,” he added.

North Westwood Neighborhood Council President Michael Skiles said UCLA remains an attractive option for students because UCLA typically charges around 30% below the market rate for housing. He added that these new buildings could slow down the increase in rent prices, but said he was unsure if rent would decrease in Westwood.

“They are either going to result in lower rent or at least slow the rate at which rents in Westwood increase,” Skiles said. “What remains to be seen is whether it will slow (the price) so much just to actually reverse (increasing rent) and bring costs down a bit, or if it will instead just stop it from increasing.”

Skiles said this uncertainty is due to the fact that UCLA does not guarantee housing for fourth-year undergraduate students and has historically offered limited housing for graduate students.

“When the students get kicked out of housing, they have to compete for very few spots in Westwood … all of them competing for scarce housing drives up the cost,” he said.

The record-high rent in Westwood has prompted growing concerns among some UCLA students.

Chew Tin Zar Aung, a third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, shared her concerns about the financial burden that high rent places on UCLA students.

“While Westwood is a high-income neighborhood, it is still mainly populated by college students, and if we fail to protect (against) the rise in prices, this could be troublesome for students,” she said. “From my experience, it seems as if the rent in Westwood is getting worse every year.”

Arvind Swaminathan, a third-year materials engineering student, said the high rent can still be significant burden for students with enough financial aid to cover tuition.

“I think many students are in agreement that rent is important to them,” Swaminathan said. “While a lot of students already receive financial aid from the school for things like tuition, some still have trouble finding ways to pay for things like housing.”

Piyapan Chaiprasit, a third-year business economics student, said she did not feel satisfied with the lack of affordable housing options in Westwood.

“I think the situation is getting worse in Westwood because landlords keep trying to increase rent prices every year. … Housing management companies will try to take advantage of the high demand and keep raising their prices, knowing that students will have no choice but to pay for these prices – this is very burdensome on the students who have to bear these financial costs,” Chaiprasit said.

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