Californian State Polytechnic University, Cal Poly Humboldt has been forced to consider a range of creative options for housing students, including floating accommodation, after a massive spike in enrolments has placed unprecedented pressure on student housing stock.

The enrolment spike is in part due to the university becoming a polytechnic university in late 2022, which saw the university receive over $450 million in state government funding to add new STEM courses. This has resulted in almost double the number of enrolment applications for fall 2023 as for fall 2022, and the university announcing that it would prioritize first-year students for student housing – a move that would likely see an estimated 1,000 returning students needing to find alternative accommodation.

However, the university has been forced into a partial u-turn after the announcement was met with student protests and a petition started by parents who say that students are “being set up for failure in their college experience.” In the petition preamble, parents are highly critical of the university pursuing growth in enrolments without adequate infrastructure in place – “if Cal Poly Humboldt does not have the facilities to properly house their student body, they should not increase enrolment.” The petition has received 4,500 signatures to date.

Cal Poly Humboldt has since committed to finding housing for approximately half of the 1,000 returning students, although these beds are unlikely to be on campus. The university is currently considering the option of floating student housing, which would see more than 600 students housed in a student dorm on a barge anchored in Eureka’s old town area, close to shops and restaurants. If the proposal goes ahead, the barge, which has a dining hall and recreation areas, could be in place as soon as this fall, in time for the new academic year. The barge is reportedly the Bibby Renaissance, a ‘floatel’ with capacity for up to 650 guests and crew, and usually used to house workers in remote locations in industries such as mining and oil and gas. It has also been used as temporary housing for Bosnian refugees in Sweden and was even refitted as a British prison ship, though never put into service. The Bibby Renaissance is owned by UK-based firm Bibby Marine Limited.

A Cal Poly Humboldt spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle that the floating accommodation is just one of many ideas the university is considering to ease accommodation pressures until new housing is built in Arcata and Eureka. The university had previously considered a cruise ship as a temporary housing solution; however, this idea had been rejected as cruise ships sit lower in the water, raising a number of logistical issues around anchoring and sewage pumping.

The university has reportedly already signed contracts with three local hotels to provide a total of 350 beds, however, students are unhappy with this plan, which they say jeopardizes their safety because of the hotels’ close proximity to the local homeless population. Students have set up a group called Cal Poly Homeless intended to fight the move and provide a voice for students around accommodation issues.