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San Francisco Student Housing Still Has A Long Way To Go

Though San Francisco has made some progress in dealing with its student housing shortage, there is still a stark supply and demand imbalance, and housing developers face a number of market challenges.

Rendering of 188 Hooper St.

S.F. has about 30 colleges and universities and not nearly enough student housing to match their combined enrollment, says California College of the Arts Director of Campus Planning David Meckel, a panelist at Bisnow's upcoming  Bay Area Student Housing Summit

After the city's schools, San Francisco's planning department and the nonprofit San Francisco Housing Action Coalition teamed up and began addressing the problem in earnest last decade, they concluded San Francisco had about 80,000 enrolled students and only about 9,000 beds.

There are barriers to market entry that prevented developers from building more, according to Meckel.

"Unlike a student housing developer rolling into Texas or College Station and banging something up on a greenfield lot, San Francisco made it as difficult as possible," he said. "The first thing we did as a group was to pass some legislation that would remove some of the barriers to doing student housing."

In 2010, one of the bigger obstacles fell by the wayside when the city exempted student housing from its inclusionary requirements. That ordinance, as well as others in the ensuing years, "completely changed the landscape for student housing in San Francisco," Meckel said. 

For CCA, that resulted in the Panoramic Interests-developed 1321 Mission St., a 160-unit student housing project shared by CCA and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, as well as Blattner Hall, a four-story, 228-bed building CCA recently finished at 75 Arkansas St.

CCA also has a 500-bed student housing project underway at 188 Hooper St., which it expects to open in 2020, as well as a major Studio Gang-designed campus expansion it expects to finish in 2022.

Blattner Hall

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music and UC Hastings each have large-scale projects of their own. The former is under construction at 200-214 Van Ness on a 420-bed project, and UC Hastings has partnered with Greystar Real Estate Partners and Strada Investment Group to embark on its multiphase, 900-unit academic village, with deliveries expected to begin in 2022. 

Even with some large-scale projects underway, thousands more student housing units are needed to meet demand.

Ideally, each school would house half of its enrolled students, Meckel said. The rest would find other forms of housing inside and outside of the city.

To get there, developers and schools have to overcome a market with formidable challenges. Some, like soaring construction costs and San Francisco's permitting process, affect all types of development. Others are specific to San Francisco's student housing market, says The Dinerstein Cos. West Coast partner Josh Vasbinder, another panelist at Bisnow's upcoming student housing event. 

"You've got a large student population in San Francisco, but they're very fractured and all over the place," Vasbinder said. "And there's not a lot of purpose-built [student housing] or opportunity to do it."

Moreover, S.F. has a larger number of part-time students, who typically don't use purpose-built student housing, than do submarkets like Berkeley, according to Vasbinder.

Even so, Dinerstein sees its recent $180M acquisition of a Berkeley portfolio as a potential springboard into other nearby markets with lots of students, including San Francisco, Vasbinder said.

With San Francisco's colleges and universities facing a nationwide slowdown in enrollment and the ensuing increase in competition, stakes are high, and more than a few large projects are needed, according to Meckel.

"It's pretty imperative for most of the colleges and universities in San Francisco to solve this," Meckel said.