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Student Housing Faces Huge Demand And Varied Challenges To Meeting That Need

Suffolk Construction's Karri Novak, MJW Investments' Natalie Greenberg, HPI Architecture's Jeff Bacurin, The Michaels Organization's Raoul Amescua and Lowney Architecture's Mark Donahue.

Student housing is gaining fresh attention as an asset class in the face of significant hunger for housing, but developers say meeting that demand is difficult, especially at a price point that works for students.

An estimated 417,000 students at the state’s three largest college systems don’t have stable housing, surveys done at the University of CaliforniaCalifornia State University and California Community Colleges have found.

“That's absolutely a critical need on our campus,” UC San Diego Associate Vice Chancellor of Housing and Hospitality Hemlata Jhaveri said at Bisnow’s Southern California Student Housing and Higher Education Summit Thursday at the JW Marriott Los Angeles LA Live.

Efforts to address affordability start with bringing the design and construction teams in early and looking for innovative ways to save money in the development process, Jhaveri said. 

Early collaboration has already been helpful in altering the way her school plans out projects. For years, the school offered a wide variety of unit types, from double occupancy rooms to rooms designed for eight or more residents. Architects and engineers helped streamline room designs to maximize efficiencies in the layout and in construction.  

UC San Diego is also utilizing modular pods to reduce construction time on a major project — two towers of student housing, 22 and 23 stories tall, respectively. 

“That is very valuable for our project because missing our fall opening is really not an option for us,” Jhaveri said. 

For those schools that are dealing less with construction and more with existing student housing on and off campus, there are different challenges. 

HED's Brent Miller, UC San Diego's Hemlata Jhaveri, Claremont McKenna's Jenny Tyniec, Sundt Construction's Sean Falvey, Champion Real Estate Co.'s Parker Champion, Studio E Architects' Mathilda Bialk and McCullough Landscape Architecture's David McCullough.

At Claremont McKenna College, students pay a single rate for on-campus housing, but pricing off-campus options is trickier. Those properties are master-leased, which is more expensive for the school, but in the eyes of students, it presents a trade-off from living at the college. Off-campus properties offer more amenities and privacy, but it feels disconnected from the college atmosphere, Claremont McKenna Senior Assistant Dean of Students for Residential Life Jenny Tyniec said. 

Surveys that documented housing challenges for California college students found the greatest need for affordable housing was among the state’s community college students, 20% of whom lacked stable places to sleep, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

Many community colleges have rising enrollment and an increased need for housing, but they can be a hard sell for capital sources, Champion Real Estate Co. CEO Parker Champion said. 

“Inevitably, we go to our mortgage broker, we talk directly to our lender relationships, and almost unanimously it's, ‘I’m not going to be able to fund that,’” Champion said. “It's so hard to get those funds, and the last thing they want to do is put it at a school that they’ve never heard of, and that's the real challenge.”