Animal McMansion: Students Trade Dorm for Suburban Luxury
Heather Alarab, a junior at the University of California, Merced, and Jill Foster, a freshman, know that their sudden popularity has little to do with their sparkling personalities, intelligence or athletic prowess.
“Hey, what are you doing?” throngs of friends perpetually text. “Hot tub today?”
While students at other colleges cram into shoebox-size dorm rooms, Ms. Alarab, a management major, and Ms. Foster, who is studying applied math, come home from midterms to chill out under the stars in a curvaceous swimming pool and an adjoining Jacuzzi behind the rapidly depreciating McMansion that they have rented for a song.
Here in Merced, a city in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley and one of the country’s hardest hit by home foreclosures, the downturn in the real estate market has presented an unusual housing opportunity for thousands of college students. Facing a shortage of dorm space, they are moving into hundreds of luxurious homes in overbuilt planned communities.
Forget the off-to-college checklist of yesteryear (bedside lamp, laundry bag, under-the-bed storage trays). This is “Animal House” 2011.
Double-height Great Room? Check.
Five bedrooms? Check.
Then there are the three-car garages, wall-to-wall carpeting, whirlpool baths, granite kitchen countertops, walk-in closets and inviting gas fireplaces.
“I mean, I have it all!” said Patricia Dugan, a senior majoring in management, who was reading Dario Fo’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” in her light-filled living room while soaking a silk caftan in one of two master bathroom sinks.
The finances of subdivision life are compelling: the university estimates yearly on-campus room and board at $13,720 a year, compared with roughly $7,000 off-campus. Sprawl rats sharing a McMansion — with each getting a bedroom and often a private bath — pay $200 to $350 a month each, depending on the amenities.
This city of 79,000 is ranked third nationally in metropolitan-area home foreclosures, behind Las Vegas and Vallejo, Calif., said Daren Blomquist, a spokesman for RealtyTrac, a company based in Irvine, Calif., that tracks housing sales. The speculative fever that gripped the region and drew waves of outside investors to this predominantly agricultural area was fueled in part by the promise of the university itself, which opened in 2005 as the first new University of California campus in 40 years.
I live in Merced. I grew up here. So did my kids.
Not everyone here is living large. We have very high rates of poverty, unemployment, drug use, crime and families on welfare along with really shitty air quality. There are six foreclosed homes within a block from my house. I can see two from my front porch.
I wonder how many UC Merced students are Occupados?