Piecing Together Humboldt’s Housing Problem

Sabriyya Ghanizada, EcoNews Intern

There is a housing crisis in California and Humboldt County (HumCo) is no exception. With Cal Poly Humboldt prospecting to double its enrollment, it will impact an already scarce market. Housing in HumCo greatly affects students and faculty of Cal Poly Humboldt, with many struggling in their search for sufficient accommodation. One reason is that there is not enough supply to meet the demand. To mitigate this, Cal Poly, the local government and community members are each working as stakeholders in the effort to create solutions that will cultivate sustainable housing that is made with eco-conscious ideals. 

The Affected Community Works Proactively 

“The search for a place to live in Humboldt County is difficult,” recalled Cal Poly Humboldt Professor Ramona Bell during a Spring semester Senate meeting at Cal Poly Humboldt.

After taking a sabbatical, Bell returned to Humboldt only to find a lot of changes to the process. 

“I’ve had students complain about the process, the rental agreement and what it takes to get a house,” said Bell.

That process can include a picture, credit score, and co-signer, on top of lengthy applications. Some students are living out of overpriced Airbnb’s, or subletting illegally. Some live out of their cars. Students and professors alike scour local Craigslist ads, contacting them immediately only to find out that their furry friends are not allowed or they had a ‘bad reference.’

It’s an open secret that there are inequitable housing practices throughout the county. Chant’e Catt, Off-Campus Housing Coordinator for Cal Poly Humboldt, who was houseless for an entire semester herself, organized a resource created by the Humboldt Tenant Landlord Cooperation (HTLC) to help bridge the gap between landlords and tenants. 

“Landlords were tired of feeling like social workers for their tenants, especially students, so HTLC is attempting to fill a gap we found the family unit seems to overlook and the education system also has not provided a lot of resources on… that’s how to be a good neighbor, how to be a tenant and how to be a community member,” said Catt.

You can do your part in being a fair property owner, landlord and tenant by participating in this course and posting your certificate proudly. To access the course head to: www.housing.humboldt.edu/htlc.

Servitas Fuels Plans with City of Eureka & Cal Poly Humboldt

Garrett Scharton, Vice President of Development at Servitas said that there have been great conversations with Cal Poly Humboldt leaders in the development of student housing within the EaRTH Center, an intermodal living space,  which has fostered trust among the groups. The EaRTH center (which will be funded by a grant pending approval in late May/early June) will include 31 apartment units to be divided into student housing, workforce housing and housing for doctors and nurses in Old Town Eureka. The ground floor will house an intermodal transit hub, pharmacy, possible cafe, and a community daycare.

Cal Poly Humboldt students that live at the proposed EaRTH center can also expect the same rent as those living on campus. Connie Stewart, who spoke at the Eureka City Council meeting on behalf of Cal Poly Humboldt in favor of the EaRTH Center, is excited that Servitas intentionally thought to get a mix of people in the building “instead of a high-end restaurant or formula coffee shop.” Stewart views the daycare as another way Servitas will be integrating community needs into the space.

“A good first step is to recognize that no single project will solve a problem; they can all just help and contribute toward a solution,” said Scharton.

One solution that Scharton cites is deed restrictions, which could impose requirements to the EaRTH Center’s advantage. The City of Eureka could require deed restrictions to focus on community needs like prioritizing teachers, students, and healthcare workers.

The EaRTH center will have a smaller footprint due to the infill. By reusing existing infrastructure and existing water and utility lines to build up, the center will accommodate more people. Jackson Ferguson, the lead architect for the EaRTH center, reiterated the mitigation of drive miles traveled due to the location and intermodal abilities. 

“…Putting housing where there is currently parking, now folks there have the option. ‘Do I park my car or just walk to work?’” said Ferguson. 

Scharton said he is open to communicating with locals and advised them to reach out to him. “We want to make sure that we’re designing something that’s responsive to the community,” said Scharton.

Catt was baffled that she didn’t hear much about the EaRTH center until it became a buzzword recently. She was not sure where the outreach was or how to participate in the decision-making process. “HTLC brings the story of the community and educates on our region’s issues so that we can have better communication about solving some of our housing climate problems,” said Catt. “I believe that it would offer an opportunity for collaboration between tenants, residents and landlords in the area. It makes me wonder where the power is as they are creating this.”

Cal Poly Humboldt Finds its Fit 

There is a divide between the University and the surrounding communities. Michael Fisher, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management at Cal Poly Humboldt, said that Cal Poly Humboldt is just one piece and hopes to fit into the puzzle with other community members to come together to see the Polytechnic Prospectus work. 

There are currently enough beds for 2,069 students on campus. With the 433 million dollars set aside for capital infrastructure, an additional 2,000 beds will be made available in a full build-out. The hotly debated Craftsmans Mall, which will be student housing ‘across the highway’, is projected to be finished by late 2024 and provide 800 beds for students. It will also include study areas and a small convenience store. Parking at the Craftsman Mall is still being considered as a ‘concept’ according to fisher. 

Two projects will follow shortly thereafter, creating 400 beds in 2026 and 650 more in 2026 for a cumulative total of 3,919 beds. Fisher is betting on more student housing to mitigate the larger housing issues around the county. 

“Housing that we will be introducing is certainly geared towards our students, students looking for a room in a house might find it better on student housing,” said Fisher. 

If more students choose to live on-campus, that can make room throughout the county for housing for non-students.

“Now a 2 bedroom 1 bath is available because of student housing,” said Fisher. “With that our workforce will grow, healthcare will grow. General amenities will need to grow and that’s just a regional problem that we are glad to be part of and are open to help lead.”

Some of those amenities include the Hatchet House in Arcata which Fisher owns and runs with his wife. Having enticing events, affordable housing and continuing to foster student-first relationships will all aid in creating a migratory chain throughout HumCo that works towards solutions for the housing crisis.

Cal Poly Humboldt plans to create a total of 6,000 beds by 2028. Half on-campus and half off throughout Arcata, Eureka and Mckinleyville. You can view the Cal Poly Humboldt Infrastructure plan here: humboldt.edu/polytechnic/infrastructure-projects.

Sabriyya Ghanizada is an Intern with EcoNews for the Spring. A Journalism News Major at Cal Poly Humboldt, Sabriyya has written published pieces for each of the student-run publications: The Lumberjack, El Lenador and Osprey Magazine. Currently, she is the Editor-In-Chief of Osprey running a humble nine-person team. Sabriyya currently has her eyes set for graduation in Spring 2022.