Bay Area Housing Blues

A Student’s Struggle to Live (Comfortably)

By Alan Do


At 2:00 a.m. in a random Berkeley neighborhood, a blue Toyota Prius sits parked among many other cars. The difference between this car and the others is that a Vietnamese-American student is sleeping in it. This is the predicament I found myself in recently, after struggling to find affordable housing near BCC.

With asking prices soaring all across the Bay Area, my difficult situation is not a unique one. Many students, and even new working professionals, are finding it increasingly difficult to find decently priced housing. This has led to people seeking alternative options such as abnormal apartment configurations.

UC Berkeley graduate Chris Ng currently resides in a living room and feels that it is the norm. “It’s not the worst situation, but there are moments when people come over and it’s not a good look.” When asked specifically about some of the drawbacks, he laughed. “Don’t get me started on the dating situation.”

Due to Berkeley’s large student population, it is not an easy task to navigate the housing marketplace. Berkeley resident, Minh Nguyen, commented on his recent housing search, and compared the experience to a daunting race.

“I was constantly refreshing pages trying to see the new listings. You have to literally be one of the first people because everyone is thirsty out there for this stuff. It’s brutal.”

Besides having to worry about about the lack of available housing, there is an additional concern for apartment seekers. Apartment listing scams are becoming a real issue in the online marketplace. I know from personal experience.

Recently, I was led into a Craigslist scam without even realizing it. A tantalizing advertisement for a one bedroom apartment drew my attention, so I started an online dialogue with the owner. After several emails, I learned that he was supposedly a deaf man who was renting out his apartment due to a job relocation. He attempted to accelerate the renting process with an oddly worded email:

“We are very excited and willing to let you move in our property, I already made conclusions… on accepting payment for the first month and a security deposit, this enables me to hold the space for you till whenever you are ready to move in.”

This interaction ended with him asking me to mail him the security deposit without me viewing the apartment due his limited availability. When I replied that I was suspicious of him he responded by saying, “I’m a good Christian and I cannot cheat on you when I know the consequence of doing that, the Bible even says ‘what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?’” Needless to say, I did not move forward with the transaction. When asked to comment on this story, he did not reply.

This constant struggle to find a place to live exhausted me. I no longer wanted to compete against my peers on platforms such as Craigslist and Facebook. Hence, three weeks after this interaction, I took my backpack, my gym membership, and two pillows to my car, and camped in various areas, from Berkeley all the way out near Oracle Coliseum in Oakland.

When sleeping in a car, it becomes apparent that you are in a vulnerable position. The lack of insulation in the car left me feeling cold. The quiet of the night coupled with being in unfamiliar areas made me uneasy. The lack of bathroom options led to awkward searches for bushes, and also to self-reflection. The showers at my local gym are a minefield for the senses—with an excess of nudity, smells, and unclean floors. Car camping is not for everyone. While I cannot say that I enjoyed this experience, I did prefer the physical discomfort of my seat cushions over the financial discomfort caused by a $1,200 room in Berkeley.

However, this is merely a temporary solution to a greater problem. Besides car camping and long-distance commuting, there are resources in the East Bay that accommodate students in need. For example, The Berkeley Student Cooperative is a non-profit cooperative providing affordable living in houses and apartments for college students. They are able to reduce costs by having the tenants engage in work shifts, general maintenance, and weekly cooking.

For more information:

In the meantime, the next time you see a parked Blue Toyota Prius in Berkeley, don’t tell anyone that someone might be sleeping in it.


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