As California’s student housing crisis deepens, plans to build more apartments and dormitories on campus face myriad obstacles that could delay construction of thousands of urgently needed beds across the three public transportation systems. state higher education.
Litigation blocking student housing projects, a potential delay in state funding, and rising construction and labor costs pose formidable challenges in alleviating what students say is one of their most pressing needs. An estimated 417,000 students lack stable places to sleep, based on surveys conducted across all three systems, representing 5% of University of California college students, 10% of California State University students, and 20% from California Community Colleges.
At the same time, student activists say their housing needs are becoming more urgent as inflation drives up rents and competition for apartments increases, particularly in many of the pricey communities where UC campuses are located. like Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and La Jolla.
“What we’ve seen across the board is that students are starting to make different decisions about where to go to school” based on housing costs, said Zennon Ulyate-Crow, a UC Santa Cruz student who is leading a new coalition. of fellow housing advocates. of the three public higher education systems statewide.
The topic will be highlighted this week at various public forums, including the UC Board of Regents meeting, a state Assembly budget hearing, and the introduction of proposed state legislation, “Student Housing Crisis Act of 2023.” , to ease barriers to construction near campuses. .
Nathan Brostrom, UC’s chief financial officer, said demand for campus housing has increased in recent years as the cost of living soars across California. UC has added 34,000 beds since 2011 for a system-wide total of 113,000, but as enrollment has also increased, the proportion of students with on-campus housing has risen only modestly, from 32% then to 38% today, said. Another 22,000 beds are being planned between 2023 and 2028, with an additional 16,000 possible if funding can be found, he added.
Students who normally rent off-campus, such as those in graduate programs or transferring to UC, are increasingly requesting college housing to take advantage of generally below-market rates, he said. UC housing waitlists for fall 2022 increased to 14,000 students across all 10 campuses from 7,500 students across eight campuses the previous year. UC Riverside, for example, added 2,400 beds in 2021, but still has the largest waitlist in the system at 3,400 students, Brostrom said.
“The communities we live in have gotten a lot more expensive, so we’re starting to see demand in places and from students that we wouldn’t normally see,” he said.
A major focus of this week’s student forums will be Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed delay of one-third of $750 million in funding for a student housing subsidy program, a move to address the projected $22.5K budget shortfall. million from the state.
Last year, in the first statewide effort to support new student housing, the program distributed $1.4 billion for 25 construction projects across the three systems. In addition, the program provided $17 million to 75 community colleges to help plan for on-campus dormitories, a new venture for most of them.
UC projects include 3,400 new beds on UC campuses in Santa Cruz, San Diego, Irvine, UCLA and Berkeley. At CSU, nine campuses are planning projects that would provide an additional 3,300 beds, including 750 at San Francisco State and 600 at Cal State Fullerton. Twelve California community colleges are working on plans for nearly 3,000 beds, with the most ambitious project in Napa Valley to house 528 students.
But rising construction costs have hit many of them, according to a memo for an assembly budget Education Finance Subcommittee. CSU said costs have increased by an average of 14% since 2021, when the plans were developed, with eight campuses reporting nearly $65 million in additional funding needed. Cal State Fullerton said it will reduce the number of proposed beds to 555 from the planned 600 due to increased costs.
This year, campuses have submitted about 30 proposals for $2.1 billion in funding, far exceeding the $750 million budgeted for the program’s second year. Now Newsom is proposing to reduce that funding to $500 million.
However, state lawmakers may disagree when they discuss student housing on Tuesday.
“Given the student housing crisis, the ability of campuses to build housing quickly compared to other local housing projects, and the likelihood that delays will increase costs and reduce the number of beds projects can deliver, the Legislature you should discuss whether this is an appropriate option. delay the program,” the Assembly memo said.
another report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, however, offered a more positive view of the defunding.
The report said eliminating the $750 million entirely rather than delaying funding a year “could be one of the relatively least disruptive ways to achieve state budget solutions” given projected shortfalls for the next few years. The report said the projects were still in the early stages and that campuses had other options for financing them. He also raised the question of whether the state should directly support housing projects, saying that other programs might be more effective in helping students pay for housing, such as more financial aid.
The memo added that lawmakers could also choose to prioritize university projects over community colleges, saying they would have a higher chance of success and long-standing housing programs. UC, for example, is home to the largest share of students, ranging from 49% at UCLA to 21% at UC Berkeley, compared to less than 1% at community colleges.
Newsom has also proposed delaying funding for a state fund for interest-free revolving loans for campus housing projects, which could dramatically reduce their costs. Funding for the $1.8 billion loan program was scheduled to begin this year, but Newsom wants to push it back to 2024.
At least one key lawmaker rejected the idea of delays. Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) said the programs, which he championed, would address two pressing and interrelated state issues: the housing crisis and the rising cost of college. Housing costs are the key driver driving the rise in the cost of attending college at California public universities, as tuition has actually declined over the past decade when inflation is taken into account, according to a new analysis by the California Public Policy Institute.
“We do not support the delay,” said McCarty, chair of the Assembly budget subcommittee on education finance. “Demand (for housing) is off the charts and we see a lot of projects ready to go … that will make a dent in the housing crisis as well as the cost of college prices.”
He added that he would, however, consider delaying the housing subsidy program while he funds the interest-free loan fund.
Brostrom, UC’s chief financial officer, said UC has the ability to finance its own housing projects, but state subsidies allow for deep discounts that can be passed on to students. A 300-bed UC Irvine dormitory project, funded in part by a $65 million state housing grant, has allowed the university to reduce cost by 30%, he said. And a no-interest loan fund could cut UC’s borrowing costs in half by about 4.25%.
He added that litigation to block campus housing projects based on the California Environmental Quality Act was another vexing hurdle.
UC Berkeley’s plan to build 1,100 student beds and 125 units for low-income community residents at People’s Park is on hold after a state appeals court ruled the campus failed to adequately consider noise impacts and evaluate alternative sites .
At UC Santa Cruz, litigation has halted projects approved by the regents in 2019 to build nearly 3,000 student beds and 140 units of student family housing on a meadow beloved for years.
These obstacles have angered many students, who are working with an Inland Empire legislator to push through legislation that would pave the way for student housing projects. AB 1630 by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) would give developers a “density bonus” that would allow them to build student, faculty and staff housing units up to three stories tall if located within 1,000 feet of the campus and offer at least 20% of units affordable as determined in part by Cal Grant eligibility.
The bill would also put campus housing projects through a streamlined permit process that would take them out of the purview of state environmental laws that have been used to block them, according to Ulyate-Crow, the UC student housing activist who helped shape the proposal with the Student HOMES Coalition, UC Student Assn., Student Senator for California Community Colleges, and Generation Up.
In his own community of Santa Cruz, the nation second most expensive real estate marketUlyate-Crow said more students are falling into housing insecurity or being forced into bidding wars against up to 60 others trying to nail down an apartment.
“We need action to address this now and get the shovels in the ground as soon as possible,” he said.