Housing costs can pose a significant challenge for students at UC Berkeley. Financial aid packages are not substantial enough to cover the cost of on-campus housing, and the university does not guarantee dorm housing. This problem is often compounded for undocumented students, many of whom already face increased financial challenges.

The real cost of high rent

Berkeley recently ranked as the most expensive place to live out of 300 US college towns. Many students have difficulty affording school while keeping a roof over their heads. As a result, some undocumented students live crammed in small apartments with multiple roommates, others have become homeless or dropped out of school.

Most undocumented students live off campus

Proportionally, there is a dramatic difference between the numbers of documented and undocumented students who live on campus. Approximately 95 percent of of all first year students at UC Berkeley live in dormitories or other university housing, whereas for first year undocumented students, that number is only 30 percent.

The chart below provides a breakdown of undocumented student housing during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years.

Undocumented Undergraduate Student Housing
2018-19 and 2019-20

HOUSING LOCATION 2018-19 2019-20
Rent & Utility – Off Campus 267 (64%) 308 (67%)
Room & Board – Resident Hall 121 (29%) 108 (24%)
Rent & Utility – Family Housing 4 (1%) 5 (1%)
Education Abroad Program (on campus housing) 2 (0.5%) 0(0%)
Rent & Utility – Living w/ Relatices 2 (0.5%) 7 (1.5%)
Total: 420 457

Bridging the gaps

UC Berkeley has taken some steps to help address the high cost of housing. First, the university has developed a Work-Study program for undocumented students. Each placement provides a subsidy of close to $4,000 that can be used to help cover housing-related expenses.

In addition, the USP has an Emergency Grant Program, which provides up to $800 to bridge rent shortfalls, put down a security deposit, or pay for temporary housing between semesters or during the summer break.

The university also helps undocumented students navigate their housing options. The campus Admissions Office reaches out to newly-admitted students and helps determine if on-campus housing will fit within the student’s budget. If not, the Office will help the student explore other options, such as living off campus with roommates.

Currently, the USP is working with UC Berkeley to assess the possibility of increasing the financial aid package for undocumented students to ensure they can continue to afford the high cost of living in the City of Berkeley, and the Bay Area generally. We also work closely with the Basic Needs Center to help support our undocumented student community when it comes to housing and financial support for basic needs.

Considerations for Getting Started

  • Does your institution guarantee on-campus housing for undocumented students? – This is especially helpful in areas with high rents.
  • What are some ways to increase the financial aid package for undocumented students to ensure they can continue to afford the high cost of living off campus?
  • What would your institution require in order to implement an emergency grant program to help students with housing-related shortfalls?
  • What would your institution require in order to implement a work-study program for undocumented students to help cover the costs of housing?
  • Which departments at your institution (e.g., Admissions, Financial Aid) are able to help undocumented students navigate their housing options?