College Students Reveling In The Awesomeness Of The Shattered American Dream

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As you may have heard, when the housing market collapsed, California was hit pretty, pretty, pretty bad. Particularly screwed was the town of Merced, which is third only to Las Vegas and Vallejo, CA in "metropolitan-area foreclosures," where "builders were [once] coming into the area by the bulkload" and are now desperate to put warm bodies that can pay something, anything in the hundreds of empty houses. It's obviously a very depressing situation, unless you happen to be a student attending school at the University of California-Merced, in which case, ka-motherfucking-ching. According to the Times, UC-M undergrads, whose school enrolls 5,200 but only has enough on-campus housing for 1,600, are moving into the nearby McMansions en-masse, creating a win-win for all.

The finances of subdivision life are compelling: the university estimates yearly on-campus room and board at $13,720 a year, compared with roughly $7,000 off-campus. Sprawl rats sharing a McMansion — with each getting a bedroom and often a private bath — pay $200 to $350 a month each, depending on the amenities...students willing to share houses have been “a blessing,” said Ellie Wooten, a former mayor of Merced and a real estate broker. Five students paying $200 a month each trump families who cannot afford more than $800 a month.

And for less than $100 extra a month, you can score yourself an even sweeter set up, new friends and the opportunity to have a major news outlet take gratuitous* pictures of you in the bath** where it appears as though you're about to be electrocuted.

Heather Alarab, a junior at the University of California, Merced, and Jill Foster, a freshman, know that their sudden popularity has little to do with their sparkling personalities, intelligence or athletic prowess. “Hey, what are you doing?” throngs of friends perpetually text. “Hot tub today?”...Gurbir Dhillon, a senior majoring in molecular cell biology, pays $70 more than his four housemates each month for the privilege of having what they enviously call “the penthouse suite” — a princely boudoir with a whirlpool tub worthy of Caesars Palace and a huge walk-in closet, which Mr. Dhillon has filled with baseball caps and T-shirts...Jaron Brandon, a sophomore and a senator in the student government, does his homework in the Jacuzzi in his six-bedroom house, on a waterproof countertop that he rigged over the tub.

There are, of course, a few minor downsides to McMansion life, like the hobos ("Lance Eber, the crime analyst for the Merced Police Department, said vacant houses were frequent targets of theft, most recently of copper wiring. They also attract squatters, who sometimes encamp beneath covered patios, he said"), vying for parking spots ("one parks on the street, two park in the garage and two in the driveway. Whoever is getting up for an 8 a.m. class parks last"), yard work ("after an unsuccessful attempt at tending the yard with a hand mower, they now pay $50 a month to a gardener"), and the neighbors, who are having a hard time swallowing the fact that they're living alongside kids when they were banking on stay-at-home moms of loose morals.

“Everybody on this street is underwater and can’t see any relief,” said John Angus, an out-of-work English teacher who paid $532,000 for a house that is now worth $221,000. “This was supposed to be an edge-of-town, Desperate Housewifey community,” he said. “These students are the reverse." Mr. Angus pays $3,000 a month, while student neighbors pay one-tenth of that. “I think they’re the luckiest students I’ve ever come across,” he said somewhat bitterly.

If it's any consolation, though, it's not as though they're not grateful. “You definitely appreciate it when you visit your friends at other schools and they say, ‘O.K., sleep on the floor,’ ” Mr. Dhillon told the Times.

Animal McMansion: Students Trade Dorm for Suburban Luxury [NYT]

*"Should we illustrate the story with a kid standing in front his 5-bedroom house or maybe stage him and his friends studying around the pool out back? No, let's get him in the bathtub."
**Can we really be the only ones who feel like we should be calling child protective services?

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