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No More Kitchens: How Student Housing Is Changing To Lower Costs And Support Students

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As the cost of construction continues to go up, student housing developers are finding it makes more sense to forgo luxury amenities for more social spaces. One piece of advice? Skip the kitchen.

Greystar's Jared Everett, Clark Construction's Karri Novak, CapitalSource's Thomas Whitesell, UC Berkeley's Rosemarie Rae, Panoramic Interests' Patrick Kennedy, Studio KDA's Charles Kahn and Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass' Caroline Guibert Chase, who moderated
Greystar's Jared Everett, Clark Construction's Karri Novak, CapitalSource's Thomas Whitesell, UC Berkeley's Rosemarie Rae, Panoramic Interests' Patrick Kennedy, Studio KDA's Charles Kahn and Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass' Caroline Guibert Chase, who moderated

Similar to the focus on communal spaces driving the momentum behind co-living, shared kitchens can be more attractive to residents and can allow developers to dedicate more square footage in a building to beds, Studio KDA Managing Principal Charles Kahn said.

Sometimes, it takes looking beyond what students ask for to see what they really use.

At University of California Berkeley, graduate students wanted small kitchens in their units. But students rarely used them. When the school checked in on the use of those kitchens after a year, it found they were being used about 5% to 20% of the time, UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Rosemarie Rae said. Communal kitchens are the plan for the future, she said.

The university plans to double the size of its student housing over the next decade, so every added bed counts.

Suntuitive Dynamic Glass, Namrata Vora
Suntuitive Dynamic Glass' Namrata Vora talks about the properties of dynamic glass at Bay Area Student Housing & Higher Ed Summit.

This shift in student living was discussed in front of a packed room at Bisnow's Bay Area Student Housing & Higher Ed Summit Thursday at Hotel Nikko in San Francisco. Speakers talked about the need to make student housing accessible and affordable for students while dealing with the difficulty of having enough housing in a high-cost market with little space to grow. Different strategies to overcome this are taking hold, Kahn said.

He said group living is entering a new era that is affecting everything from market-rate apartments to student housing. With communal kitchens, the challenge is to make it something more than just a kitchen. It needs to be a common space that creates community.

Many in student housing are skipping the luxury amenities of just a few years ago, whether lazy rivers or rooftop pools, and looking instead at the social uses of the buildings — those ways of creating community.

Such amenities in the past have driven up the cost of housing and added to the already heavy debt burden many students carry, Greystar Senior Vice President of University Partnerships Jared Everett said. Replacing such amenities with more social and academic spaces is not just about cost savings, but also the benefits to students, he said.

For projects built on campus, the location and affiliation with the university serve as amenities. For example, a project on campus may not need a big fitness center, because students have access to the campus rec center, he said.

California College of the Arts' David Meckel, American Campus Communities' Noel Brinkman, DCI Engineers' Jeff Brink, UC Hastings College of Law's David Seward, TMG Partners' Denise Pinkston, SFHAC's Todd David and Reuben, Junius & Rose's Daniel Frattin, who moderated
California College of the Arts' David Meckel, American Campus Communities' Noel Brinkman, DCI Engineers' Jeff Brink, UC Hastings College of Law's David Seward, TMG Partners' Denise Pinkston, S.F. Housing Action Coalition's Todd David and Reuben, Junius & Rose's Daniel Frattin, who moderated

One way to stretch construction dollars further and offer students more is to create more multiuse rooms in a student housing project. Clark Construction Vice President of Higher Education Karri Novak suggested a room that could be used for a coffee cart in the morning, study space in the afternoon and a social gathering spot in the evenings.

“Our strategy is to build less to get your building to work harder for you,” she said.

Such flexibility should inform entire projects, Everett said. Universities are finding that the concrete-block dorms of 50 years ago don't appeal to today's students. So those building student housing today need to think about how to make those buildings adaptable and flexible enough to respond to the changing tastes of future students.

Another way to make the most of available space for student housing at the lowest cost to develop, particularly in land-constrained areas such as urban campuses, is by reducing or eliminating parking. Since student housing is typically on or right by campus, eliminating parking makes a lot of sense, Kahn said.

In California, the state density bonus law has been amended to allow student housing developments to apply for the density bonus based on the number of beds as opposed to the number of units. Such shifts can help drive waivers and concessions for parking requirements or height limits, TMG Partners partner Denise Pinkston said. That, in turn, can bring down the cost of the development and the cost for students.