Undergraduates in Luxury Homes at University of California

The California district of Merced, in the heart of San Joaquin Valley, was recently ranked as the third hardest-hit city in the country for home foreclosures – the economic downturn having left entire communities of grand luxury homes vacant and depreciating. But for some UC students, the “housing crisis” is an embarrassment of riches, writes Amanda Mikelberg at the New York Daily News.

The five to six bedroom luxury homes, fitted with chandeliers, Jacuzzis, walk-in closets and swimming pools are too seemingly too expensive for private occupiers. But for students, who are looking to live together and split the costs, it works out pretty cheaply.

There are thousands of “McMansion” dormers who, for the price of $200-$350 each in monthly rent, have their own bedrooms, private bath and access to all the luxuries houses like this present. These rent costs work out at about a quarter of what they would be expected to pay on-campus.

According to university estimates, room and board costs average $13,720 a year.

Students willing to share houses have been ‘a blessing’, said Ellie Wooten, a former mayor of Merced and a real estate broker.

While the university only has room for 1,600 students on campus and more than 5,200 enrolled, and students at other colleges cram into shoebox-size dorm rooms, Heather Alarab, a management major, and Jill Foster, who is studying applied math, come home from midterms to a swimming pool and an adjoining Jacuzzi behind a mansion that they have rented for a song, writes Patricia Leigh Brown at the New York Times.

But the neighborhoods aren’t taking kindly to this influx of new residents. John Angus, an out-of-work English teacher who paid $532,000 for a house now worth $221,000, pays $3,000 a month, while UC students pay a tenth of that.

“Everybody on this street is underwater [in their mortgage] and can’t see any relief,” Angus said. “I think they’re the luckiest students I’ve ever come across.”

But who can blame them? Jaron Brandon, a sophomore and a senator in the student government, said that he put an ad in Craigslist and he now does his homework in the Jacuzzi in his six-bedroom house, somewhere he can relax and work at the same time.