Graphic by Griffin Mancuso.

Cal Poly Humboldt spending $1.34 million on hotel lease while having 331 vacant beds on campus


by Brad Butterfield

Two-and-a-half miles north of campus stands the seven-figure “temporary solution” to Cal Poly Humboldt’s current housing crisis. However, this fall semester did not bring the thousands of additional students that had been expected, and 331 bed spaces remain vacant in the on-campus dorms. Despite the difficulties presented by living out of a hotel room, students spoke – mostly – positively about life at the Comfort Inn.

Cal Poly Humboldt’s lease agreement with the Comfort Inn commenced on Aug. 11 and will expire May 12, 2024, for a total of 275 nights. The 49 rooms at the hotel cost the university $100 per night. By the end of the lease, the university will have paid $1,347,500 to the Comfort Inn.

During normal hotel operations, the city of Arcata charges a ‘transient tax’ of 10% the cost of the room. With the university’s lease, the city of Arcata will not earn its normal 10% tax from the Comfort Inn for the 275 nights that students will call it home. Representatives from the city of Arcata were not immediately available for comment regarding the loss of tax revenue.

Given the fact that 331 empty bed spaces remain vacant on campus, the Comfort Inn lease could appear like an ugly $1.3 million stain on the university’s management of funds, but perhaps that’s not fair. Enrollment was expected to jump by 2000 students this fall and the university had an obligation to plan for every scenario. Additionally, the university allowed students who were accepted this fall to defer enrollment until next spring, creating a potential housing shortage come spring. The Comfort Inn lease was kept as an insurance measure by the university. 

“To meet the needs of our students and prepare for a possible influx of more students, the university provided the option of living in university-managed off-campus bridge housing like the Comfort Inn,” said Aileen Yoo, Director of News & Information in a statement. “It’s meant to be a temporary solution as we move forward with building additional housing facilities over the next several years.” 

In spite of the price tag and lower-than-predicted enrollment, the university kept the Comfort Inn as a housing option, in part because they had to. They had advertised the hotel as a housing option for many students.

“We also sought to honor the fact a number of students specifically chose to live in the Comfort Inn, even when offered the option to move back onto campus,” Yoo said. “Continuing our contract allows us to not only plan for the future, but to reduce uncertainty and disruption of housing locations for those students.”

Importantly, all students currently housed at the Comfort Inn are there by choice. 

“Students who are currently residing in the Comfort Inn have chosen to stay there, even when the university offered them the opportunity to move back on campus and live in residential halls,” said Yoo.

Neither Sherie Cornish Gordon the Vice President of Administration & Finance, Donyet King the Senior Director for Housing & Residence Life, nor Steve Relyea the Executive Vice Chancellor responded to interview requests.

The money spent is particularly concerning on the backdrop of the recent CSU tuition hike. Regardless, the students of Cal Poly Humboldt that have been caught in the crosshairs of the university’s rapid expansion, should be the number one priority. Happily, it seems that students now housed in the Comfort Inn are quite content, one might even say they are… (relatively) comfortable. 

“It’s not a shitty place, it’s really not. People are like, ‘Oh that sucks you guys are living there,’” said Luis Castro, a student living in the Comfort Inn. “I’m like, ‘No, it’s chill. It’s our own thing.’ In my opinion it’s better than living on campus.”

 In fact, there are a number of notable benefits to life in the Comfort Inn that students are stoked on. 

“It’s quiet. You don’t have the loudness of the community on campus,” said Dylan Harrison, another student who resides in the hotel. “We have our own community here. We have breakfast every morning. We got a pool downstairs if I want to go swimming, or go to Jacuzzi. We have our own laundry as well.”

In addition to the jacuzzi and laundry, students housed at the Comfort Inn have cleaning services twice a week, free breakfast, and gated parking. Still, there are drawbacks to making a hotel room a home. Namely, the absence of a kitchen. Fortunately, the university has crafted a creative compromise for the students living without a kitchen.

“They got a deal with this diner called Pepper’s and we use our meal exchanges there, or flex money,” Harrison said. “If I want a burger, instead of going and getting a burger that some student made on campus, who just wants to get paid – I could go to a diner where these people want to make burgers. And they like making burgers. And they got good burgers.”

In addition to top notch burgers, students are relishing the first floor snacks provided by the hotel.

“If you want to get something to eat – let’s say you want snacks on campus – then you have to go to the marketplace and pay for it. And here you just go downstairs and just get a yogurt that’s already stocked,” Castro said.

Naturally, the perks of life at Comfort Inn must be weighed against its inconvenient undesirable location miles from campus.

 “There is a little bit of a disconnect, socially, you know, between big events that are going on [on campus]. But, I mean, the people that I have met here are pretty cool,” said Andres Arteaga, another student resident of the hotel. “Seeing as it’s my first year here, I did actually really want to be on campus. I do like the vibe on campus, but at the same time, It just feels like our own area here in this section of the town.” 

All things considered, the situation seems decent for students living at the Comfort Inn, but it is far from an ideal college housing arrangement. Directly across the street from the Comfort Inn stands, ‘The Grove,’ a hotel recently converted to a homeless shelter. Behind that, in an undeveloped stretch of land that backs up to highway 101, a small community of homeless folks have put up shop and don’t appear to be leaving anytime soon. 

“It’s like a 15 feet deep pool and 20 feet diameter wide and there’s tarps and there’s like, people just living over there,” Harrison said. “It’s crazy. You see it off the 101, they’re always burning fires. There’s a lot of people over there. You hear them at nighttime, [and] they’re always screaming.”

Logistically, it appears the university has set students up for success with multiple options for transport to the campus grounds. Working in tandem with Arcata Mad River Transit, the university created a new route that runs 7am to 10pm to transport students, for free, to and from the campus. The bus does not run on Sundays, but students have the option to call the University Police Department for a ride at any time, if need be.

“I take the bus to school,” Harrison said. “There’s three options every hour. If you miss all three buses, you’re a dumbass.”

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