No end in sight: Sacramento’s soaring rents make working full-time while attempting college a heavy lift for students 

Photo by Sincerely Media

By Madison Flewellyn

Kaitlyn Raygoza, a third-year student at Sacramento State, lives on campus and pays $1,500 a month for a single bedroom with a shared bathroom and kitchen. 

“It’s kinda hard because it doesn’t feel like there’s anywhere that I can turn,” noted Raygoza, who is from Modesto. 

To afford rent, Raygoza works two jobs, averaging 40 hours a week. She does not have financial support from her family. 

With student housing prices skyrocketing, more students are finding themselves working full-time jobs, a reality that can compromise their academic engagement and success.

Sacramento State’s Division of Student Affairs has a breakdown for all housing and meal plan options and costs: The cheapest option for rent and a meal plan in North Village for the 2023-2024 school year is $1,174 a month. This comes out to $10,566 for the school year, only nine months. However, according to College Factual, the average Sacramento State student pays $15,944 on room and board for the school year. 

Living off-campus is an alternative option for students, but is just as expensive- if not more. 

According to Zillow, the median rent in Sacramento is $1,900. This would come out to $22,800 a year.

All these costs do not include tuition, books, groceries and other living expenses. 

Bruce Monighan, the urban design manager for the City of Sacramento, said a number of obstacles make it hard for developers to build affordable student housing. 

“We want housing, we desperately want housing,” observed Monighan, who’s been in the architectural industry for over 40 years. “But I remind people that it’s not housing at any cost, we still have to build quality neighborhoods and quality places for people to live.”

Monighan adds that student housing is expensive to build particularly because of its location: Affordable student housing is hard to come by as the cost of construction near a school causes the price to skyrocket. 

“Often property near an amenity like a school is much more expensive than if you build it 30 miles out of town because they make everybody commute,” Monighan explained. “Location becomes critically important and the cost of your land is based on location.”

Monighan also stressed that developers don’t control the cost of construction, which is extremely high right now.

“There was a time, I’m gonna say 20 years ago, that your average 4-story, wood frame construction building was around $125 a square foot. That escalated really rapidly, and your average cost of construction now is closer to $350 to $400 a square foot,” said Monighan. 

Along with the high cost of construction, interest rates and other soft costs add to high rates. Additionally, student housing buildings often include amenities that increase rent, like a gym, study rooms, or a pool. 

Developers often get blamed for high living costs, but Monighan describes construction as a business just like anything else. 

“These are sort of business decisions and they’re not related to the developer taking advantage of a market to make an ungodly profit,” he argued. “And while that’s the story that gets told, that’s not how it always works.” 

“Is it expensive to build something now? Oh yeah, it’s just the craziest that I’ve seen in my nearly 50 years in this business,” Monighan also acknowledged. “Is there a lot we can do about it? No.”

Samuel N. Jones, the executive housing director for Sacramento State, said the university is in the process of constructing a 335-unit building for student housing that is set to open in 2026. 

“The project is part of the affordable housing grant,” Jones detailed. “The pricing for the new residence hall will be in alignment with our current housing inventory and pricing along with any approved percentage increase in rent.”

With no end in sight, students like Raygoza will continue to have to work full-time to afford the cost of living, move back home, or worse case drop out of school. 

Other expenses only add to the pressure.

“I don’t usually eat there because I’m working until super late or I’m working really early in the morning so I can’t grab anything,” Raygoza reflected. “So, it’s like I’m paying all this money for a meal plan when it’s not even super accessible to me.”

Overwhelming workloads can cause a decline in mental health. Nonstop working and studying with no social interactions can take its toll, too. Raygoza and many others are feeling it.

“This is my first semester having to work both jobs so I’ve had to learn a lot of time management with designating days to study,” the student said. “I know that I’m struggling, especially in one class.”

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