Finding housing in the Bay Area is a formidable task, particularly for students. While Mills provides a beautiful campus, housing on campus is not an exception to the increasing costs of living in Oakland.
Colleges nationwide are making an effort to welcome students of all class backgrounds, but student homelessness is a growing problem, according to a report published in 2017 by The Wisconsin HOPE Lab. A survey of 4,000 community college students found that two-thirds were food insecure, half were housing insecure, and 13-14 percent were homeless.
Some students at Mills are forced to turn to unorthodox housing to avoid the ridiculous rent prices. Mills senior Sophia Draznin-Nagy is such a student.
“I’ll be living in a van next year,” Draznin-Nagy said. “I am joining a community of ‘vanners,’ actually. I’m moving out of an apartment with a rent-controlled lease, and I can’t afford housing anywhere in Oakland, as a student working two jobs and going to school full time.”
Other students are left to face the difficulty that comes from being a first-time renter in a highly competitive market.
Mills sophomore Carmen Wiley, who is currently looking for off-campus housing, says, “A lot of the apartments ask that we have salaries that are 2.5x the rent, good credit and good references. Luckily, we have a co-signer so we are taken more seriously but that is a significant privilege that a lot of people don’t have.”
Despite these obstacles, living on campus is not necessarily easier when you’re on a budget. Wiley is looking to move off campus in part to avoid the cost of living at Mills.
“It costs around $1,000 a month for independent living here at Mills, which is astronomical,” Wiley said. “I seriously don’t understand how Mills justifies these housing prices, especially considering how this school considers itself an institution dedicated to social justice.”
According to the Mills website, the cheapest on-campus housing option – a double occupant room, two people sharing somewhere around 150 square feet – costs $762.50 per month in the academic year. This price doesn’t even include a meal plan, which is required of on-campus students. The 12-plus meal plan, the cheapest plan Mills offers, costs another $733.13 per month.
Providing on campus housing might certainly have a lot of expenses that might not be immediately apparent, like salaries and facility upkeep, but that cost is a heavy burden on a low-income student who is likely working for a minimum or low wage job and going to class full time. The image of the traditional, middle class college student surviving on ramen noodles normalizes economic insecurity with the assumption that parents function as safety nets. But students lacking a stable home space or feeling anxiety about what housing they can afford shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Housing and food security are vital to all other facets of well-being, not to mention a student’s ability to focus on their academics. If Mills really wants to welcome low-income students, it is not reflected in the price of living at the school.