What a UC Berkeley legal battle says about college housing affordability nationwide

The University of California, Berkeley's recent legal battle has highlighted the issue of college housing affordability, a problem facing many college students across the country.

(CNN)College students across the country are facing a crisis.

It's not just the basic cost of attending college, which has steadily been climbing. And it's not the stress of getting into a post-secondary program. The problem is housing.
For many college students across the country, especially those who are low-income or working class, affordable housing is increasingly illusory. Just as the issue has plagued many families in the US, college students have also been affected, as they often need to live somewhere close to a central campus for as little as possible.
At the University of California, Berkeley, the issue has become a legal quandary.
In 2021, the Alameda Superior Court ruled to freeze enrollment numbers in favor of a neighborhood group, Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods, which argued that the rapid population growth of students at UC Berkeley negatively impacted the city's residents -- through noise, negative environmental impacts and, most notably, rising housing costs.
The university tried to appeal the decision, but the California Supreme Court rejected it in March. It sent UC Berkeley into a tailspin, as the school suddenly had to find ways to rescind thousands of acceptance letters to students set to begin classes during the fall 2022 semester.
The solution came in the form of rapid legislation. The state legislature quickly pushed a bill through, ensuring that enrollments at UC Berkeley, or any other state colleges in the future, could not suddenly be restricted in the name of environmental protections. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law on March 14.
Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods wasn't happy, claiming that the decision will only exacerbate housing issues facing students and Berkeley residents.
"Despite overwhelming evidence that UC has failed to house and support students, increasing rates of student homelessness, and increased campus crowding to the point that many students can't graduate in four years, the bill allows UC to continue its rapid enrollment growth with no mitigation even where a court finds that UC has failed to analyze or mitigate population growth impacts," the group said in a press release following the decision.
For now, the issue has essentially been kicked down the road. But rising housing costs and housing affordability is a crisis that has spread across the country. And for students, the issue is especially pertinent.
Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, calls on lawmakers to approve a bill to overturn a court ruling limiting enrollment at the University of California during the Assembly session at the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, March 14, 2022.

Affordable housing for college students is an issue everywhere

At the heart of the problem in Berkeley is that there simply isn't enough affordable housing to go around. But Berkeley's situation isn't unique: Across the country, housing affordability has grown increasingly dire, and the issue is here to stay, said Mark Huelsman, the director of policy and advocacy at The Hope Center, a higher education research center at Temple University.
"It's obviously incredibly acute in places like the Bay Area and California more broadly," Huelsman said. "But this issue is definitely going to bleed over across the country, especially in places where the cost of housing has started to rise even faster over the last couple years."
Even if the neighborhood group had succeeded in restricting Berkeley's student population, students in other college towns could struggle to afford housing, too, Huelsman said. The student housing issue wouldn't have been solved in any meaningful way, instead it would have simply become someone else's problem.
In Berkeley's case, the university is in a relatively wealthy area that has, in the past, been hesitant to build more housing for students or other communities that need affordable housing. The city has also historically been resistant to building anything other than single family housing, and only just ended exclusionary zoning last year.
Meanwhile, the city has remained one of the most expensive places to live in the country, leaving students struggling. More than 24% of students attending the school lacked a safe and adequate place to sleep, according to a 2021 survey by UC Berkeley.
To put it bluntly: When it comes to housing, many students are stuck. Nearly half of college students -- 48% -- experienced housing insecurity during the pandemic, according to a 2021 report by The Hope Center, while one in seven students experienced homelessness. Even more striking, those num