Housing shortage, delayed construction leaves 1,100 UC Merced students without guaranteed housing

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Less than two weeks before the start of the fall semester, more than 1,000 UC Merced students are without a guaranteed place to live.

Delayed construction and an already competitive housing market has left students scrambling to find a home before the school year starts.

"I've applied for more houses than I can count. I've honestly lost track at this point," said Shawn Duong, a third-year student at UC Merced.

He has been looking for off-campus housing in Merced since May.

He and his housemates think they may have finally found a place to rent, but it's still not guaranteed.

Riley Whitmer, also a third-year student, signed his contract in June with UC Merced for on-campus living.

"Once they send a contract back, that pretty much says 'Ok, you're good, you'll have housing on campus' and everything," Whitmer said.

But when his room number and roommates weren't assigned last month, and his girlfriend's were, he knew there was likely an issue.

"I tried like calling the housing office and everything but like, they wouldn't answer my calls and the inbox was full, it was a whole mess," Whitmer said.

Maria Barajas' son attends UC Merced.

They signed a year lease and paid the lease in-full three months ago at Merced Station. It's an apartment complex near campus created for student living.

But earlier this week, Barajas received an email from Merced Station saying their move-in date will be postponed until at least late September.

In the email, the complex said material and labor shortages caused by the pandemic delayed construction.

They are just three of the nearly 1,100 UC Merced students without a confirmed place to live and school scheduled to start in two weeks.

On Thursday, UC Merced sent an email to all students to address the housing situation.

In it, college officials said they're working to get every student temporary, emergency housing.

They have reserved local hotel rooms, they're trying to delay the first day of school until August 30 and they're trying to add additional beds to residence halls on campus.

They're also reaching out to students who live within commuting distance offering gas cards and free parking permits if they will commute to campus instead of living there.

Officials said in-part, "Thank you for your patience as we have developed plans to address the tight housing situation."

UC Merced is not affiliated with Merced Station but said through a student survey, they're learned nearly half of the students struggling to find housing were planning to live there.

Merced Station said in the email to renters, "We share your frustration and understand that this delayed move-in day creates some challenges for you."

Merced Station is offering concessions equal to half a month's rent for August and September for those who stay with family or friends while they wait for their apartment to be completed.

They're also offering a hotel stay to a limited number of residents. Residents also have seven days to cancel their lease without penalty.

College officials said they are not planning on a hybrid option to allow students to learn remotely, but if they don't have a guaranteed solution to this housing shortage by early next week, they will consider making that an option again.
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