California university considers housing students on a boat


California is home to sun, surf, and one of the most intense housing shortages in the country. Gov. Gavin Newsom campaigned on the promise to build millions of housing units, but as of November of last year, he was only 13% towards his ultimate goal, and that’s counting permits rather than builds. All kinds of solutions have been put forward by housing advocates, from tiny homes to selling homes to affordable housing non profits to the simplest of all: Zoning reform that allows more density. 

But maybe the most unusual solution yet has just been floated—literally. Cal Poly Humboldt in Northern California is considering putting its students up on a barge eight miles away from campus, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “There are simply not enough housing options available either on campus or in the community,” Cal Poly Humboldt spokesperson Grant Scott-Goforth told Fortune in a statement, adding that it’s also looking into three hotels to house students. This statement alone speaks to the dire housing shortage in California, as the campus is located in Arcata, a city with just around 18,000 residents, and surely enough space to keep students from the barge life. 

Vacancy rates in Humboldt County are reportedly between zero and 3%, and the state wants to build 3,390 new housing units in the county by 2017, local media outlet North Coast Journal reported. Officials in the nearby town of Eureka are reportedly considering building more housing on parking lots, and in Arcata they are considering rezoning industrial land. 

“The idea of floating apartments or studios is one of many possibilities the University has been exploring,” Scott-Goforth said. “This is very preliminary at this point and the university does not have further details to share.”

The barge would theoretically be anchored off the town of Eureka, whose city manager Miles Slattery told the Chronicle that a boat could house around 600 students, and would include typical college staples like a dining hall. 

“I think, personally, that this is a great idea,” Slattery told the Lost Coast Post, a local news outlet. “It would be a huge benefit to the City of Eureka, our businesses, to have this available.” 

The California housing crisis has hit Humboldt students hard—the school plans to increase its enrollment over the next few years, but is already putting students up in affordable hotels like the Comfort Inn, rather than traditional college dorms. Many students have attended rallies to raise awareness about the lack of accommodation. The university updated its guidance earlier this month, saying on-campus housing will not be offered to returning students, Humboldt student paper The Lumberjack reported, though it has since walked back that move

“I can’t fathom why you guys are accepting this many students when you can’t support them,” student Julia Kurtz said at a protest.  

Some students have started referring to the barge idea as a “prison boat,” a reference to how, historically, some boats have functioned as prisons. Although prison ships no longer exist in California, they are part of the state’s history, and a boat on the Sacramento River in the 1800s was one of its first prisons, although it sank in 1859.  

“I don’t get why some people are calling it a prison boat,” Slattery told the Chronicle. “The facilities are amazing.”

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