Santa Barbara is a beautiful place, yet the standard of living has plummeted. Rents are sky high, quality of housing is at rock bottom. A recipe that doesn’t produce the best outcome.
I have lived in Santa Barbara as an international student for almost three years now. During these three years I’ve lived in four different locations, I’ve had termites, cockroaches, leaking plumbing, cracked ceilings, you name it.
I’ve slept on an air mattress in an apartment with 8 other people due to not being able to find anywhere to live, and I have paid a pretty sum for it too. My story is not unique; in fact it is the story of most international students currently residing in Santa Barbara.
I spoke to three Swedish students who have all been here the same amount of time as me, if not longer, and their stories truly show the sacrifices we have to make in order to live and go to school in the American Riviera.
“There were a lot of issues with our apartment but they never did anything about it” Says Mathias. When I ask why he just shrugs his shoulders and says that “they did not have the resources”.
I recognize the feeling of being powerless, especially in a country where one could be evicted with basically no reason given. When I had to move a few months back, I had thirty days to find a new place, and it was by pure luck I managed to do so. Especially since the vacancy rate is lower than on Manhattan. 0.6% in April 2014, compared to 1.8%.
“The cops were frequent visitors at our complex. Some guy kidnapped a girl and stayed in the apartment over us. Stuff like that would happen all the time.”
Isa Oestman Olai is 26 years old, and she has lived in Santa Barbara for almost three years. During this time she has had to move 6 times, and she now refers to herself as a “Master of moving”.
“The best place I’ve lived is my current house. It is still not the best standard, but it’s OK. We have rats here though, I hear them in the walls and under the floors every night. Sometimes I worry that they are inside of my room. One time I had to kill a sick rat that was running around in circles outside our front door. That was a sad day.”
Robert Ununger moved to Santa Barbara in August 2012, and he is one of the few students who actually got lucky finding housing his first semester at Santa Barbara City College. He wasn’t as lucky with his other housing situations after that first semester however. Robert was a victim of the slumlord Dario Pini as well, not once, but twice.
“After a while we just stopped cleaning, it just didn’t make a difference anymore”
Slumlords, such as Dario Pini, are quick to take advantage of international students. Robert experienced this when their landlord deducted money from their security deposit, even though they left their apartment in better shape than they found it. Due to high housing demands, landlords are given an excuse to slack on maintenance, while still raising rents all around the city. Since students are desperate for housing, they just have to make due with the existing conditions.
“We had issues with this apartment because they required a co-signer. We finally found one, but it was close that we didn’t have anywhere to live at that point.”
This is our reality. We lower our expectations and justify the conditions we live under because we don’t really have a choice, or as Isa put it “You take what you get and you pay the price for it too”. It is the cost of living the American Riviera dream.