By Jacob George
Crammed between a thin hallway, Alexander Hain pushes his way through a sea of wide eyed, bustling college students, in search of the master bedroom. The chaotic scene around him is similar to your average weekend rager, but far from what Hain expected when he went to check out a listing for an open house on Clover Way in Arcata. Humboldt State Freshman, 19-year-old Hain, has been searching the Arcata area for a house to live in for his sophomore year at Humboldt State since early April, with no luck.
“I tried to get a jump-start on the house, but I guess so did everybody else,” Hain said. “Every open house I’ve gone to in April was packed with people from school.”
Hain expressed his frustration with the “shot in the dark” approach he is forced to take whenever he applies as a local tenant, along with the financial burden.
“They want us to pay $20 each for an application fee, then tell us there’s over 30 people applying to the same house, so not to get our hopes up,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
One of the best things Arcata has to offer is the small tight-knit community, but local students are running out of places to live. According to US News and World Report, 91 percent of Humboldt State students live off campus, which means roughly 7,500 students compete in the local housing market each year. Since 2010, Humboldt States total enrollment has gone up by nearly 1,500 students, a sharp increase for such a small community and housing market. This statistic is also worrisome due to the fact that the odds are often, in fact, always against the student applicant. Often with no credit, little job history, and a lack of references, students are often chosen last by property owners and realtors to sign or pick up leases. Students are usually forced to rely on a co-signer to even give them a chance for consideration.
As the end of the spring semester at Humboldt State approaches, students find themselves in a frantic frenzy between the months of April and June to secure a place to live for the following semester, before it’s too late.
Carma Day, an employee at Humboldt Property Management in Arcata, explained just how tight the window is for students who are looking to sign a lease.
“It’s good to start looking in April to be safe,” Day said. “May should be fine too but it’ll start getting more limited. June you’re cutting it close and by July everything’s locked up.”
She continued to note how things have gotten noticeably more competitive in the past few years, especially this one.
“This is the worst I’ve seen it, in terms of total availability,” she said. “At this point last year I had at least five or six houses opening up, right now I only have one in Arcata that’s over two bedrooms”
Nearby McKinleyville and Eureka’s housing situations are far from ideal as well, and require students to commute to school by car or bus, which students often either don’t have access to, or don’t have the time to spend multiple hours at the bus stop.
The city of Arcata has just under 9,500 households, to house a population of just over 21,000 residents, according to demographics listed at Point2homes.com. 62 percent of these are non-family households, while the other 38 percent belongs to families. Even when factoring the few apartment complexes into equation, the numbers clearly indicate that there is more people than the city can comfortably house. This, along with rising rent prices, has even led to a homelessness problem among students. Research done in The City of Arcata Homeless Services Plan indicates that the city of Arcata accounts for nearly 16 percent of Humboldt county’s homeless population, second only to Eureka at a Staggering 56 percent. Although it is hard to draw a direct correlation between the limited housing and the homelessness percentage, one could make a strong argument that it is a key factor.
Some are benefiting from the small, competitive housing market that Arcata offers. Property owner Randy Dodd and his wife Susan own multiple properties in across the Bay Area and Humboldt County, including in Eureka and Arcata. The two of them reside in Pleasanton, California, half way between San Francisco and San Jose, but make regular trips to Humboldt county to manage their property.
“I couldn’t have had to sit on one of the Arcata houses for more than one or two months for as long as we’ve had them,” Randy Dodd said. “Usually the hardest part is looking into and choosing the most qualified applicant for the house.”
Randy Dodd is not at all surprised by the mass number of applicants he averages on each Humboldt County house, or the competition in the small, but highly desired housing market.
“More people, especially the college students are coming in and shopping around the same number of houses as there was 10, 15, 20 years ago,” he said. “You don’t see much new construction going on, but soon maybe that will change.”