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A lack of student housing has some living 'the van life'

Posted at 9:59 PM, Nov 07, 2021

CEDAR CITY, Utah — The affordable housing crunch has forced some Southern Utah University students to get a little creative to find a place to live.

SUU, which experienced the most growth in enrollment this year of any of the state's colleges and universities, has also had a student housing problem.

"We’re competing with growth, we’re competing with the housing market, where we lost student beds to the housing market that’s hot," interim president Mindy Benson said in a recent interview with FOX 13. "We’ve also lost beds to the Airbnb market."

Recent flooding that hit the Cedar City area did not help matters. Benson said the university put out a call for help, finding places in hotels and even campgrounds. Fortunately, the community stepped up to provide where they could.

"We’ve had students get creative and parents have gotten creative," she said.

One of those who has gotten creative is Jake Baumann, a freshman aviation mechanics major from Eureka, Nev. When he couldn't find a dorm room or an apartment, his parents purchased a fifth wheel camper.

"There was really no other housing available," he told FOX 13 as he showed off the camper. "We were lucky to find this fifth wheel, and a spot to park it because everybody was kind of scrambling to find a place to live."

Baumann said he envisioned his first year in college with roommates, but "it changed pretty quick." He said his parents considered the camper idea after some family friends did it for their college-age child who also had a similar housing crunch.

At the KOA campground in Cedar City, the manager said space has been set aside just for "student housing." Students and faculty have stayed there alongside the tourists that come through town, usually until they get other housing.

SUU is aware of the situation for some students. Benson said she knows of some currently living what she calls "the van life." There's no exact number, as housing situations fluctuate. Benson said for some it's temporary, while others intend to make it last as long as they can.

"It’s college. Live and learn and grow and do those things while you can now because it’s little tougher when you have a family and a job," she said.

SUU is offering resources to any student who needs it, especially as the weather starts to change.

"They have not registered that with us and it’s not an official community, but we know we have that," Benson said. "As long as they are safe and they have what they need, they choose to live that."

Benson said she believes there is enough housing for students currently. Another 500 beds in the community are being built, in addition to the other housing construction in the city. The university has no current plans to expand its dorms.

Baumann said he is actually OK with his living situation. He might stay in his fifth wheel throughout his time at SUU.

"I think it’s a lot nicer than a dorm," he said. "I don’t have to worry about people coming in the middle of the night or dorms, living with someone I don’t like."