OPINION: The Claremont Colleges — and 5C students — must support the fight for affordable housing in Claremont

A long yellow and red building sits behind a sign that reads "Claremont".
The Claremont Colleges have a role to play in alleviating Claremont’s housing affordability problems, writes Gwen Tucker SC ’25. (Gaby Camacho • The Student Life)

To many 5C students, and indeed throughout the Los Angeles area, Claremont has the reputation of a uniformly upper-middle class, professional and politically progressive community. Colloquially referred to as “The City of Trees and PhDs,” it has gained a reputation that makes it synonymous with white, well-to-do academics. But Claremont is not the utopia it is often chalked up to be.

A significant portion of Claremont residents are low-income, and the city’s wealthier residents and neighborhoods — many of whom consistently vote for liberal causes — also have a history of opposing the development of new affordable housing to support them, opting instead to maintain Claremont’s neighborhood character. The progressive opposition to affordable housing is inherently detrimental, creating a prominent housing crisis in Claremont and the state of California as a whole. 

In California, in order to rent an average two-bedroom apartment at market price, a household must earn over $80,000 a year annually, which is more than three times the statewide minimum wage. Individuals and households who qualify as “extremely low-income” — meaning they make less than 30 percent of the average median income (AMI) per year — are hit hardest by this housing crisis. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, California currently lacks nearly 100,000 homes that qualify as affordable for extremely low-income renters, meaning many people will end up unhoused. The biggest cities in California are obviously the most expensive, but recent studies have found that, as residents flee those cities for less expensive surrounding areas, those areas face massive price increases as well. In fact, between 2010 and 2020, San Bernardino County — which Claremont borders — saw a nearly 94 percent increase in average home value

Claremont has followed a similar trend. Sales information from the California Association of Realtors reflects that housing prices in Claremont have increased by about 26 percent since 2016. Current data from the 2022 Housing Element shows that more than 30 percent of Claremont’s population can be classified as low-income – making less than 80 percent of the average median income – meaning approximately 11,500 individuals. And yet, Claremont only has 539 subsidized units of affordable housing, many of which are not meant for more than one person. The Housing Element found that Claremont will need nearly 2,000 additional units of affordable housing in the next ten years to keep up with the city’s growing population. 

The Claremont Colleges have played a significant role in Claremont’s affordable housing crisis. In the 1960s, the 5Cs – primarily Claremont McKenna College – expanded into and gentrified Arbol Verde, a community made up of primarily Mexican-American immigrants. CMC was able to easily acquire ownership of housing tracts, taking advantage of the fact that members of the Arbol Verde community couldn’t legally purchase land until the mid-20th century. After buying homes in the neighborhood and ultimately evicting long-time residents to expand its campus, the college effectively owned 80 percent of homes in Arbol Verde by the end of the 1980s.

Using their new housing stock, Claremont McKenna offered subsidized renting to professors, originally offering a rate of 20 percent below market value. This practice continues in some capacity today, with Pomona College setting aside a number of rentals specifically for faculty. While this practice does help to increase housing affordability for some — those already eligible to work at these elite institutions — it ultimately depletes the housing stock for other community members. 

The housing crisis in Claremont and surrounding Southern California communities requires a multitude of solutions. The city must work to change zoning laws that only prohibit single-family homes, allow more medium- and high-density development, partner with local residents to increase the presence of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), increase the development of subsidized affordable apartments, pass rent stabilization laws and much more. But all of these solutions require money, which is hard to find in a small city budget – especially with the effects of Proposition 13, which has limited the ability to raise money through property taxes. 

That’s where the 5Cs come in. The colleges are by far the largest and wealthiest owners of land in the city, and their endowments grant them a unique ability to address the housing crisis. The Claremont Colleges can partner with the City of Claremont to create an affordable housing trust, providing money for subsidized housing or even zero-interest loans for new developments. It is impossible to go back in time and correct their actions, but the colleges have a responsibility to address their impact today. 

Of course, none of these important solutions will happen on their own. It is up to community members — including students from the 5Cs — to organize to increase affordable housing presence and subsidization in Claremont. If you are interested in learning more and in joining this fight, consider attending the Inclusive Claremont introductory meeting this Monday at 6 p.m. on Zoom. Inclusive Claremont is working to build a strong coalition of Claremont community members – both college students and non-college students – advocating for increased affordable housing in the city. During the meeting, you’ll hear from local leaders in the fight for housing, and be a part of strategizing to build student power. As Claremont Colleges students, we can’t think of ourselves as separate from the wider Claremont community. We must be part of the fight for an inclusive, accessible and affordable city for all.

Gwen Tucker SC ’25 is from Evanston, Illinois. She is currently organizing 5C students for local housing justice and waiting for Taylor Swift to release her next album. 

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