Chant’e Catt: It took a while, but I came around to The Village

As a student housing advocate, and a student who experienced homelessness with her year-and-a-half-old child, veteran boyfriend and two well-behaved dogs for 16 weeks, not because we had no money or did not plan as many like to think. It has taken me almost a year of fighting against The Village project, to fully accepting it.

The concerns I myself had, including the Homeless Student Advocate Alliance (HSAA) a student housing grouped formed by students in August of 2016, was that it would be a capitalistic group that did not hear our requests for clean, safe and welcoming housing. That it would not be affordable, and that it could bi-polarize the students and the residents of Arcata.  Another concern was that it was not student family housing.

I have been processing many sides, welcoming Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing (ACRH) to one-on-one meetings, reading the data and reports they and many others offered. Also important to understand, I have worked for two years on, unpaid, unassigned research, analyzing why this community is in the spot it is with housing, talking with student after student, taking part in committees like the Arcata Housing Equity group since its conception.

Myself and the students of HSAA have scanned through hours and hours of historical context and current information. Including being present in the planning meetings and focus groups for AMCAL and Brumfield and Dunlevy making sure that our concerns were laid on the table and considered. In case the argument prevails, “Arcata is not just students,” in a population of 17,000 people about 8,000 of those constituents are students. That, my friends, is quite substantial and constituents’ desires deserve consideration based on economic impacts alone.

After it all, what do I personally think about The Village and all the politics around it? I could type for days. I’ll start with an observation. I believe there is a perpetuation of NIMBY attitudes including false facts that are being presented. Ploys rooted from competition in resources and pushed by a financially unidentified benefactor that has undeveloped property adjacent to the proposed Village site. The arguments that ACRH, The Village’s counter group, sustain are null and void in my eyes, as many of the pointed issues already pierce the flesh of our community. They are not issues to come, rather issues that exist! They bleed out squashing hopes and dreams many have, then lose as they come to Arcata and Humboldt for education and a better life.

The ARCH group has repeatedly suggested that 800 students will not be here in August, and the community does not need a project of this stature. What has been overlooked, or may not be understood is that a majority of those students were here last year, and do you know why they left!? Because they felt unwelcomed!

Housing and racial issues are the huge elephant in the room, or more importantly the community square, that keep students away. Maybe that’s what the local, long-lived residents want. I mean hey, I get it. I sold my successful business, to come to school and settle down here in Humboldt. The appeal is the natural beauty and scale of the city. That ideology is worth fighting for.

Ultimately, like many, I came to Arcata because I had a personified image of what this community supposedly is. All that positive PR of a cutting-edge, culturally competent, pet-friendly area, community and adventure really was a draw. This personification of the area is not PR just from HSU hill sharing space in the city. It was the redwoods, the beach, nature, and culture I wanted to be close to, but more deeply I felt excitement that I could access knowledge through a historically environmentally active and socially aware campus called Humboldt State University. The campus is what helped me take a chance, work for four years, and finally move here.

As I experienced the actual reality of it all, I found some of the most uninviting situations I have ever experienced as a 39-year-old woman. All I know is that I gave up everything to be here, to be a creative and thoughtful community member where I could develop a nonprofit to serve children and animals in an environmentally conscious space. And as I came, I felt like all I had fought for in the stretch of a lifetime was not worth any value at all to the property managers, and employers offered here. Adjusting was near hell, and that’s coming from a woman who believes that diversity and diversifying, is in fact survival. The only thing that kept me persevering was a mindset that ultimately the adversity and perseverance through our housing insecurity and struggle would be worth it as I earned a degree that would help me attain my true goals. For many of thousands of students that came to Arcata, in years past, that gave up on their educational dreams, much of it is because they were pushed so damn far, trying to access Maslow’s hierarchy of needs combined with being discriminated against that they left and took millions upon millions of dollars of the local economy with them!

My story is not unique, and many far worse than I.  This is what the local residents need to hear! This is a reality, I am not some “left-wing gravy train riding liberal that just wants to complain,” a sentiment that I received from an anonymous resident in a hate email as I advocate for student housing. And if one believes that a housing project will create a disconnect, I argue it’s a mindset that exists not the structure of housing. Even at a town hall meeting regarding this project, where I was a panelist, it was said by a member of the ACRH with a comment directed my way, “College was not designed for you.” How incredibly disgusted I felt as I held back the hurt and emotion that welled up. She then continued, “but I love students, and I want to be a neighbor to them...”

The housing market is terrible here in Humboldt, and while we are concentrating on Arcata, it is highly ignorant to believe that our housing market does not impact Humboldt county and vise versa. Let’s be realistic, we ALL live in Humboldt County, invisible barriers, and municipal bureaucracy aside! There are no true outlets for renter complaints, and the county, including the City of Arcata, is so understaffed that they can’t go inspect and mediate the complaints they do receive on the overwhelming and unsatisfactory assortment of housing that exists here. Talk about a disgraceful lack of development and infrastructure progression. The community needs to be cared for! And there is no homogenized way to do that. We need a combination of new developments and restoration or repurposing of properties, what remains, what’s still worth loving.

The argument rents will raise and landlords will put four to a room because of The Village is preposterous! Please let’s be honest, rents locally range from $500 for a room to $2,000 for a three- to four-bedroom home some including utilities but most do not. The impacts of housing have created a surplus of consumers which allow property managers to basically practice however they want, even ignoring local and state ordinances and laws. There are no agencies such as real estate evaluators that make sure property manager follow anti-discriminatory regulations, upkeep properties and even offer to house consumers on a first-come first-serve basis instead of pooling 30 to 40 applicants at $25 to $43 an application and picking the most economically advantaged applicant.

Those same property managers then explicitly state that they do what the owners want and that the company has no say in how people are chosen. However I can say, those managers do in fact have influence and preference and that influence overrides many choices landlords have. No matter what we do, MONEY will always be a factor, and the fewer homes we have, the higher the rent will be.

AMCAL, through deep evaluation, community considerations, and honestly as I see it, has bent over backward to give all sides of the community all that we have asked for. This is a development that will help students get into low barrier housing that is 5 percent below any of HSU’s dorms, that will not require a deposit, that does not require a cosigner, that does not require a meal plan, that will allow a student to feel safe and have the option to go out to the community as it creates a more welcoming cultivation of space.

How will that help housing families, and people in poverty, its called supply, and demand! We have up to 8,000 college students alone floating around  semester after semester since the 1970s. Nineteen percent of them experience homelessness through their term here. Some with parents who got so tired of the rental issues that they buy a family residence and divvy them up some two to four to a room at $500 apiece and remotely rent it while generally neglecting to care for the properties.

Some landlords rent RVs that had been added on with a bathroom or carport and a shed and ask $1,200 for it. Did you know about 70 percent of homes in the area are remotely owned, meaning the owners live somewhere other than Arcata? A project like this will help free up these homes that are meant for families! Oh wait, developments that are meant specifically for a certain demographic is not integrated… Right. Homes that were meant for families, not students… how ironic for senior homes that isolate seniors... or gated communities that house the more well off… It’s all a slippery slope at this point.

Once again, ACRH’s arguments while reasonable to present and contemplate fall short as discovery happens. These arguments that have been brought and suggested by the group are said will happen, already exist.

Student-only housing keeps community out or a housing project like this cuts off community interaction and creates isolation. Will students not need to shop, go into the community and cultural events around town, socialize in the restaurants and centers set up in our businesses and parks? Is Arcata so uneventful that a student who came all this way wants to lock themselves in a room and only come out for classes at HSU? If this is the case, then the city really needs to work on their culture. First hand I have heard from the students on “the other side of the freeway, on campus” That they already feel it is HSU on the hill and Arcata across the freeway and it is divided. That many people of color feel unsafe crossing over because of the racial microaggressions and blatant discrimination that is received, and that campus dorms and campus are where some feel safest. How sad is that!

The argument that The Village will cause issues of isolation is funny to me because the people suggesting it don’t seem to realize that the arguments have and are rampantly alive, further they have reached ripe age in the community. That these are no new issues or issues that will blossom like corpse flower in the night and wreak havoc in the future.

Further, Councilmember Susan Ornelas suggested housing where professors and students can live together. As she stated that, I pondered, “Yeah, ’cause all professors and students want is to live next door to each other where they have no personal space to turn off.”

Lastly and more importantly like any political entity, our City Council is worried they won’t be supported or reelected. I want to point out our council can’t even make a solid choice with the McKinley statue that is decidedly inappropriate in the evolution of current modalities because they are concerned with a group of constituents to which their moralities have not caught up with the evolving times. Ultimately, a choice must be made, or a community will fester on the issue and a breakdown in that elephant in the square to speak will continue to separate us. The council is bi-polarized itself in keeping a balance of the old and the new as views of its people transition and move forward in time. It’s no wonder they suffer bureaucratic tabling on issues that should simply put, be decided on, and appropriately moved on to new business that asserts itself in the wake of choice.

For those of you that need proof of the disturbing practices, rent prices, and cycles of the housing issues Arcata has? HSAA has collected the evidence for over two years, collaborating with over 20 groups, hundreds of student researchers, professors, community members and the like. We would be more than happy to set up a town hall meeting designed to share. HSAA will bring all the information we have gathered. Please be prepared to camp out for a few days like many of us students have, as there is much to be examined. Maybe then, the students and people of color will finally be heard.

In the end, I along with HSAA, fully support AMCAL and The Village project and believe they have superseded most every issue presented. Importantly along with the councils planning departments who have worked tirelessly to work out each of the concerns around long-term tax issues and provisions that can be added to the title of the property to prevent foul play from the campus. I personally believe, if the council does not approve this project, we will be waiting even more years, while perpetuating the same cycle of ick that comes along with indecision, and uncompromising demand.

Chant’e Catt is A first-generation transfer student. Twice homeless, as a teen and as an incoming undergraduate at HSU. Fueled by many stories of students experiencing homelessness, social justice ignited the creation of HSAA and pushed Chant’e to become a housing advocate.



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