The Cost of Living the American Riviera Dream

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.

June gloom. A suitable name for the weather circumstances that hit sunny Santa Barbara every year. 1/1250 f5.6 400 AWB HH. Rule of thirds.

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.

For an international student, the requirements are extensive in order to be approved by a landlord. It took me almost three years to find proper housing, and the only reason I was allowed in was because of the recommendation of my former landlord. I basically had to build a resume in order to find quality housing. It’s still small, it’s still expensive, but at least I have windows that open and heating when it’s cold. 1/13 f11 800 AWB HH. Color.

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’m 24 years old, and I share an apartment with three other people and I’ve done my best to make my room into a micro-apartment. I’ve come to think of this as normal. But is it really? When are we too old to have roommates, and do we even have a choice in the matter? 1/50 f11 800 AWB HH. Balance.

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.

Mathias Grape is 21 and has lived in Santa Barbara since August 2013. The then 19 year old Mathias experienced the same kind of issues as most international students, and he moved into Haley Cottages where he stayed for a year before he and his roommate moved out. 1/30 f5 400 AWB HH. Rule of thirds.

“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”.

Bad insulation of the studio he lived in led to hot and humid days in the summer, and freezing nights in the winter. Mathias recalls having to turn the gas stove on and sitting by the hatch in order to keep warm. He is now living in a two-bedroom apartment that his roommates and him succeeded in leasing, despite them being international. 1/30 f5 400 AWB HH, Rule of thirds. 1/20 f5 400 AWB HH, Filling the frame.

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%.

Due to visa-regulations, international students aren’t allowed to work which makes it more and more important to learn how to stretch a dollar. Especially when exchange rates go up, and tuition as well. 1/400 f5 400 AWB HH. Pattern.

“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.”

“It has been hard to root down to find a center in all the chaos of moving. I think people lose a sense of belonging when it is so hard to sustain the most essential needs such as a home. If the saying “home is where the heart is” is accurate, then students in this city are truly lost” says Isa Oestman Olai, 26 years old. 1/13 f5.6 3200 AWB HH. Rule of thirds.

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”.

During her first six months she lived in a one-bedroom apartment with three other people, in a complex run by the notorious slumlord Dario Pini who is currently facing criminal charges for not abiding by construction laws. “I paid 650 dollars a month. It was awful. We had cockroaches in the kitchen, and 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.” 1/13 f5.6 3200 AWB HH, Filling the frame. 1/15 f5.6 3200 AWB HH. Filling the frame.

“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.”

One of the perks of living in Santa Barbara is the beautiful view you might have from your living room window. This is extra much appreciated by Robert Ununger, 26, who used to live in a place with no windows in the living room at all. 1/1250 f4 800 AWB HH. Frame within a frame.

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.

“When we moved into our second apartment it wasn’t clean and we had mice problems. We told the landlord (Dario Pini) but nothing was done really. After a while we just stopped cleaning, it just didn’t make a difference anymore”. 1/60 f5.6 800 AWB HH. Blurred foreground.

“After a while we just stopped cleaning, it just didn’t make a difference anymore”

The third place where Robert lived didn’t have windows in the living room, no air-conditioning, or any heater. In order to cope with the cold winter months, they had to buy a small heater to have in the bedroom at night. ”That was the only way we could make it through that winter”, says Robert. 1/4000 f4.8 800 AWB HH. Frame within a frame.

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.

At one point, Robert paid 1200 dollars to share a room in a house up on the Santa Barbara Mesa. Although expensive, he says that he could make it work since his tuition cost was lower, and the exchange rate was better. Although he likes his current living situation, he says it was close it didn’t work out. “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.” 1/40 f5.6 800 AWB HH. Filling the frame. 
1/40 f5.6 800 AWB HH. Filling the frame.

“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.”

Santa Barbara is beautiful, but the high demand for housing, and greedy landlords’ opportunistic way of raising already soaring rents might just make it even more of a class issue of who can live and study here. 1/500 f14 400 AWB HH, Rule of thirds.