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California’s Lieutenant Governor Visits UCI, Discusses Housing

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California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis visited the site of UCI’s new student housing project at Mesa Court on April 10. She was joined by Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan and Vice Mayor Tammy Kim.

According to a press release by UCI, the university received regental approval to expand the Mesa Court complex by about 300 new residence hall beds for undergraduate students. This project — funded by $80 million total, $65 million of which is from California’s Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program — was approved in March. Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Housing Tim Trevan said the new housing will be opened for use in fall 2026.

This project is part of the UC Regents’ plan to increase on-campus housing at the UCs by 8,000 beds. They also have a system-wide goal of adding 22,000 beds across the nine undergraduate UC campuses by fall 2028.

UCI in particular is facing growing demand for housing as it received over 143,000 applications for the fall 2023 quarter — the most applications in campus history for the third year in a row.

The New University spoke with Kounalakis about the significance of this housing project.

“UC Irvine is an extraordinary university. It’s the students and the faculty that make it that way, but the state needs to invest everything we can to help support the extraordinary educational experience that UC Irvine can provide,” she said.

Kounalakis stressed the need to support students in public higher education, calling the UC system “a giant conveyor belt of talent.”

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Willie Banks also expressed his support for the Mesa Court expansion and said that UCI has “a number of plans” to increase student housing.

“Anything we can do to help provide housing for incoming students or just students in general is going to be helpful. I think this project is really needed and we’re thankful it was approved at the Regents level,” he said.

The housing project has implications not only in the UC system but also in the city of Irvine. 

Khan spoke about how the growth of UCI ties into the growth of Irvine.

“[UCI] is really a well-recognized campus, and that’s attractive to a lot of people. That’s why you see the growth in applicants and people moving here,” she said. “We’re doing a lot more work now [to increase housing]. This work should have been done 10, 15, 20 years ago. The actions we’re taking today — we’re hopeful they will eliminate this need in the future.”

Kim said she was the only member of the Irvine City Council whose office wrote a letter to UC Regents in support of the housing project. She spoke about the importance of fighting student housing insecurity.

“You have situations [with] upwards of six to eight students shacking up in a one-bedroom apartment, so we don’t want that. We want to make sure students are able to focus on studying — making sure they have a good quality of life and making sure they don’t have to worry about where they’re going to be sleeping at night,” Kim said.

Fourth-year English and education sciences student Celina Tiqui, who is also a Resident Advisor at Mesa Court, echoed Kim’s sentiments.

“Having a new housing project that is on-campus not only helps alleviate housing insecurity, but [also] prevents us from having to go to a third party like [American Campus Communities],” she said.

As the UC system works to meet increasing demand for housing, there are many students facing difficulties due to the housing crisis. Kounalakis offered the following message to these students.

“We’re doing everything we can to respond to the voices who’ve made it clear that this is a critically important part of access to higher [education]. Persevere,” she said. “We know that it’s hard, but our students are the pride of our state, and we will do everything we can to help support their academic experience.”

Chrissy Park is a 2022–2023 Campus News Editor. She can be reached at campusnews@newuniversity.org.