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A Lack Of Affordable Student Housing Is Having Severe Impacts On The Bay Area, Experts Say

The Bay Area’s affordability crisis is not just hitting low-income and middle-class families. Local universities are struggling with ways to provide affordable housing for students, teachers and staff. Without affordable housing, students are less likely to succeed at these schools and universities cannot recruit and retain talented faculty and staff.

Ratcliff Architects principal Bill Blessing, California College of the Arts Director of Research and Planning David Meckel, Swinerton Builders Regional Business Development Manager Gary Moriarty and Clark Pacific Director of Corporate Development Roy Griffith

“We are getting our asses kicked by New York. We pretty much accept the top art students in the world, and we lose them to Pratt in Brooklyn because they have housing,” California College of the Arts Director of Research and Planning David Meckel said. “The California Conservatory of Music has the same problem. They just lose them to Julliard.”

Meckel, along with developers, consultants, designers and other education administrators, discussed the challenges and impacts associated with a lack of affordable student housing during Bisnow's NorCal Student Housing & Development event Wednesday.

As part of California College of the Arts’ campus expansion project, sustainability will be integral to the success of the campus and recruiting students. It also recently broke ground on a new student housing project.

Meckel said he has been working with master architect Studio Gang to produce more energy than is consumed and will target creating a campus that will not need air conditioning. He said CCA’s students are familiar with sustainability and the sharing economy lifestyle.

“That value system is what they are coming in with. If we don’t validate that, make it visible in the way we are practicing what we are teaching in our courses through our facilities and campus environment, we are missing a huge pedagogical opportunity,” Meckel said.

CCA is considering creating a microgrid on campus and has worked with Panoramic Interests to build student housing that has water metering. Meckel said by just having meters, there has been a reduction of water use.

Prefab and modular housing are being used more in student housing to cut down the cost to build and increase the speed of delivery. Clark Pacific worked with Stanford for a student housing project where using prefabricated construction and building various components off-site helped reduce the construction time by six months. The contractor is working on another massive student housing project at Stanford, Clark Pacific Director of Corporate Development Roy Griffith said.

A Lack Of Student Housing Is Affecting Everyone

Steinberg principal Kim Patten, Amcal Housing CEO Percy Vaz and Partner Engineering and Science and National Client Manager Jay Grenfell

The scarcity of housing has been boiling at the surface for many years. Higher enrollment at some California universities has been driving the need, but so has the basic lack of supply. Some parts of California have been very restrictive on what you can build, Amcal Housing CEO Percy Vaz said. Amcal has been working on several off-campus projects and has 6,000 beds in the pipeline for the next three years.

Affordability and student success are two common goals across various student housing projects, according to Steinberg principal Kim Patten.

“If you don’t have housing meeting those goals by putting in educational opportunities to connect, and it’s not affordable, it’s not going to be able to satisfy student housing needs very well,” she said.

UC Hastings Chief Financial Officer David Seward

Students often end up in an overcrowded single-family home or in market-rate housing, which leaves fewer options for families. In San Francisco, students are competing with tech workers who make upward of six figures, according to UC Hastings Chief Financial Officer David Seward.

“Building student housing takes students off Craigslit and helps stabilize the rent market,” he said.

Planning departments tend to be supportive of student housing and developers, which has helped give these projects a chance, Seward said. UC Hastings is working on creating student housing projects in the Tenderloin that could be shared by local universities such as the University of California San Francisco.

Partner Engineering and Science and National Client Manager Jay Grenfell and Panoramic Interests owner Patrick Kennedy

Panoramic Interests is working with two schools that enlisted their support at entitlements. The sites are next to Mission, which is often a volatile anti-development part of San Francisco. But Panoramic Interests owner Patrick Kennedy said he found the process much easier because the projects were supported by Golden Gate University and the Art Institute. He said planning commissioners want to support local educational institutions.

What Local Universities Are Doing

Northmarq Capital Senior Vice President Dan Baker, San Jose State University Chief Financial Officer Charlie Faas, UC Berkeley Chief Financial Officer Rosemarie Rae, San Francisco State University Chief Financial Officer Ann Sherman and UC Hastings Chief Financial Officer David Seward

The Bay Area’s largest institutions are working quickly to create more housing for their students, but demand remains very high.

San Francisco State University is working on a new project that would create 518 new beds. Because it is demolishing outdated housing, the total gain is 330 beds, according to San Francisco State University Chief Financial Officer Ann Sherman. SFSU has a waiting list of about 2,400 students each year and houses about 14% of its students.

San Jose State University added an 800-plus bed student housing tower on campus for freshmen within the last year, its chief financial officer, Charlie Faas, said. SJSU was built with two-story tilt-up buildings, and the only way to improve housing is to go up and increase density. SJSU offers 4,000 beds on campus, but 15,000 students live within three miles of campus.

About 35% of SJSU’s students are first-generation college attendees, who often have even more affordability issues. Many students at local colleges are also working and cannot take as many classes, which extends the amount of time it takes for them to graduate, Fass said.

Silicon Valley tech employers often look to local schools to hire students because these students have been working their whole careers, offer an affordable and diverse hire and are hardworking, he said.

“I feel we owe it to our students here. For the governments, for the developers, for the contractors and universities, we all have to take less and figure out how we can partner to get this thing done,” Fass said. “Otherwise we’re all going to separate and students are the ones who suffer and not graduate on time."

San Francisco State University Chief Financial Officer Ann Sherman and San Jose State University Chief Financial Officer Charlie Faas

University of California Berkeley has the lowest percentage of housing for students, graduate students and faculty in the system by over half, according to UC Berkeley Chief Financial Officer Rosmarie Rae. The school has about 800 beds for freshmen under construction and plans to build 8,000 to 9,000 beds over the next 10 years. Because UC Berkeley is land-constrained and does not offer many land options on campus, the university is having to think how best to relocate structures. The administration also is thinking about ways to provide multiple uses at residential halls and facilities to include parking, wellness centers and dining.

“We’re working within a very small footprint and are trying to keep students as close to campus as possible,” Rae said.

Half of the students at UC Berkeley are first-generation and 70% of students are on financial aid. Universities are looking at ways to guarantee housing for freshmen. A new mandate to provide a two-to-one ratio for California transfer students has UC Berkeley having to figure out how to provide housing for incoming juniors.

In addition to providing housing, these universities also are considering ways to improve food security. SFSU, for example, is looking into offering food pantries on campus.

“Affordability means they are eating,” Sherman said. “Affordability means can they buy the books that enable them to succeed.”

Staff And Faculty Are Struggling, Too


The need for more affordable housing for faculty and staff is particularly pressing at San Francisco State University, which was named the top unaffordable campus for staff and faculty housing within the California State University system. San Jose State University was No. 2.

SFSU has had significant turnover at the administration level because of the cost of housing. Staff at the custodial level that may make $16 to $17/hour are traveling about two and a half hours from Stockton, Sherman said. SFSU is working on various issues in the short-term and midterm to fix some of the problems associated with affordability.

“Housing alone is not going to be enough, but it is a critical part of our infrastructure,” Sherman said.

SJSU hires 70 to 80 faculty members every year, but the salaries are the same across the CSU system, meaning those at Chico State, where housing is more affordable, are earning the same as those in San Jose.

UC Berkeley is exploring opportunities for junior faculty and non-tenured faculty, who they are losing to places like Michigan and the University of Virginia, where it is more affordable to raise a family.

Faculty housing could provide an additional revenue stream by providing less subsidy than student housing. This revenue could support more rehabilitations and the creation of new housing, Seward said.