Dormitory dilemma: students react to housing shortage

Seaside Hall is Pepperdine’s latest addition to the on-campus housing, which typically houses 458 Seaver students. High school seniors reported having difficulty securing dormitories for the 2022-23 academic year. Photo by Maria Elizabeth

Pepperdine is in Malibu, and while attending college in such a “branded beach community” has perks, like meeting celebrities at Whole Foods and Ralphs Beach, it has a few downsides. Students said finding an apartment in Malibu is challenging because high rents limit them to campus life, further contributing to the overcrowding at Pepperdine dormitories.

Due to Pepperdine’s limited housing options, sixth form students are not guaranteed on-campus housing. Instead, first-year students, sophomores, and transfer students are required to live in dormitories per the university’s residency requirement and therefore have priority.

In 2022-23 Academic year, of the 2,400 students who live on campus, over 1,600 of those residents are first- and sophomores, Lucy Man, communications and marketing manager for Housing and Residence Life, wrote in an Aug. 25 email to the graphic .

650 high school students have secured housing for the 2022-23 academic year, Man wrote. Although over 2,400 students will be living on campus this year, the housing department did not disclose how many students have applied for those spots.

While undergraduates said the university is doing its best to accommodate everyone, high school students said there simply isn’t enough space or resources to make life on or near campus easily accessible.

“If our school cannot provide adequate housing for its students, we are expected to find off-campus housing in a real estate world that caters to A-list celebrities and Silicon Valley millionaires or CEOs of multi-million or billion-dollar companies Dollar,” said Junior Sahnet Ramirez. “It’s so unrealistic and unfair to put students in this situation.”

Despite the limited housing available, high school students have a variety of options on campus compared to undergraduate students. Sixth form students can choose to live in the Seaside Residence Hall or in apartment-style homes such as Drescher, George Page and Lovernich.

Of all the accommodations on campus, Seaside Hall is the cheapest at $6,900 per semester for a double room. For high school students who wish to avoid living between freshmen and sophomores, the Lovernich Apartments are $7,225 per semester, while the George Page Apartments offer a double room with double occupancy for $7,600 per semester.

At $9,200 per semester, single rooms at Drescher are the most expensive option for high school students living on campus. Located off the Seaver campus, Drescher is home to both Seaver and Pepperdine graduate school students. Although this allows more undergraduate students to live on campus, it limits the number of graduate students who are allowed to live in on-campus housing.

Students said while off-campus living allows for freedoms that on-campus living doesn’t, it’s not the most convenient option for students trying to save money.

According to a Payscale report, the cost of living in Malibu is 630% higher than the state average. The cost of living is 186% higher than other US cities.

Students said they often look at apartments in nearby cities to find budget-friendly options. However, according to LA Business First, two of Pepperdine’s closest neighbors, Calabasas and Pacific Palisades, are among the most affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.

Students said finding housing in and near the Malibu zip code presents serious financial obstacles while also requiring access to a car for commuting.

“We were struggling to find a place to live, so we had to consider places in Agoura Hills or places in Malibu that were way out of our budget,” junior Estefania Johnson said.

Despite being miles from the Malibu campus, these cities also command high rental prices that exceed the national average for housing costs. Regardless, living further away from campus allows students to find more affordable housing, according to Best Places.

Pepperdine’s closest neighbor, the city of Calabasas, has high real estate prices and is home to many Hollywood celebrities, including the Kardashians and Will Smith. Regardless, Calabasas’ cost of living index is twice the national average. Overall, however, Malibu is 96.5% more expensive than Calabasas, according to Best Place, making it a more affordable option for students.

Despite the exorbitant cost of living in Calabasas, there are two apartment complexes that many students flock to when looking for housing options.

A popular apartment complex among students, Malibu Canyon Apartments, or MCAs, is located at the end of Malibu Canyon on Las Virgenes Road, about 11 miles from campus. Though it takes about 20 minutes to drive through the gorge, many students said they make the commute to save on rental costs.

Many students also live in the Avalon Apartments, located at the beginning of Malibu Canyon and eight miles from campus. While Avalon is a little closer than MCAs, it’s not without a price premium. While these two properties house many of Pepperdine’s high school students, rental prices for each complex range from $2,500 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, according to MCA and Avalon’s profile.

“After a stressful application process and countless rejections, we were able to secure a place at Avalon, but only a few weeks before school started,” Johnson said.

Given the difficulties students face in finding housing, Junior Sahnet Ramirez said the university lacks communication. She waited five months before being given an update on her housing status after applying for on-campus housing and not hearing from the housing office.

“My friends and I were forced to look for off-campus housing, which was way beyond our budget, especially as out-of-state college students,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez, who doesn’t have a car on the west coast, said that even if she could find an apartment off campus, she wouldn’t have transportation to get to and from her classes. When a place became available in a dorm with one of her friends, she repeatedly contacted the housing office and asked to be transferred to the vacancy.

Although the housing department initially told her she would be notified if a space became available, Ramirez persisted. A few days after she turned herself in, the university sent an email notifying Ramirez that she had been given on-campus housing.

“The longer we had to wait for a direct response from Housing, the scarcer the opportunity to find off-campus housing became,” Ramirez said. “Fortunately, it worked out, but we practically had to beg for a solution that isn’t comfortable for anyone.”

While high school students said securing on-campus housing generally proves difficult, undergraduates said the process can be more complicated when a student is abroad while planning their future in Malibu.

While studying in Florence in the spring 2022 semester, junior Elijah Gatling said he faced delays in applying for housing. Once Gatling was able to access the housing portal, few options were left.

Gatling said he was then put on the waiting list for George Page and kept in the dark about what came next in the process.

“I was wondering if I would get housing for the semester,” Gatling said. “I emailed people in anticipation but got no response and got sad. I was like, ‘Damn, what should I do? I’ve been abroad and I have nowhere to live.’ I was basically trapped.”

After meeting with Housing online, Gatling said they helped him expedite his housing application and he secured a spot with Drescher. Despite a less than perfect process, Gatling is happy to have a home for the academic year.

“There’s not really a lot of communication when it comes to housing until that’s around,” Gatling said. “Only the stress that comes with the lack of communication from Pepperdine itself made the process very difficult to understand. I’m grateful that I was able to find accommodation on campus, although it took a while. I appreciate Pepperdine being able to do that for me.”

Johnson said it is “nearly impossible” to find affordable housing off campus, and most properties require strong credit and lucrative income levels from co-signers to secure a spot.

Johnson said the process was even more difficult because she was 6,000 miles from Malibu in Lausanne when she navigated the apartment. Though she had intended to live in MCAs with friends, her plans fell through when a roommate pulled out of her lease-transfer deal at the last minute. Less than two months before school, she had to find a new housing solution.

“It was like a punch in the stomach to think like you’re so done and you’ve got everything ready, and then boom, now you’re at the beginning,” Johnson said.

When Johnson found someone else to live with, the race against time began. She said the group initially sought MCAs but were unable to secure a spot due to a co-signer’s extravagant fiscal requirements. It took about a month and a half before Johnson and her group were able to sign a lease in late July.

“We were really lucky because we waited so long just to see where we would go at the last minute, but I’m grateful that we were able to find a new person quickly enough and live decently near the school” , Johnson said .

In response to criticism from high school students of sourcing on-campus housing, Man Housing wrote that they are committed to having students on campus as much as possible.

“Students are welcome to remain on our waiting lists throughout the summer should a space become available,” Man wrote. “Although we are outside the purview of our department, we listen and empathize with student concerns as campus housing fills up.”

To help students find alternatives to off-campus housing, the Housing Office has created an off-campus housing resource on its website, including an off-campus roommate request form/email list to request to help find roommates off campus.

Nonetheless, senior high school students said it may be in the university’s best interest to provide more affordable housing for its students, even if through more affordable university-operated off-campus housing. The students said that the university should be more transparent and communicative with the students before, during and after the application process for accommodation.

“I hope to use what I’ve learned through this difficult process to not only properly prepare myself for next year’s placement, but also to raise awareness for others who may be facing the same challenges as my friends and I ‘ Ramirez said.