Opening the Door on Student Housing West

On-campus housing to expand using public-private partnership

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Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 4.26.54 PMUC Santa Cruz College, Housing and Educational Services (CHES) has over $1 billion worth of problems and only $300 million with which to solve them. From Kresge College’s $170 million renovation, Crown College residence hall renovations and many others across campus — the problems aren’t going away anytime soon.

“We found ourselves in a bit of a pickle because we didn’t have enough capacity to do what we needed to do,” said Sue Matthews, CHES associate vice chancellor.

With this in mind, the public-private partnership (P3) model was introduced to help mitigate the debt constraints. UC Irvine and UC Merced have already implemented this model, yet UCSC is the first college to utilize it for residences.

The new model will give rights of a new on-campus residential facility to third-party owners. The facility, called Student Housing West (SHW), will be located on the west side of campus. It will not be affiliated with any of the 10 colleges and will bring up to 3,000 new bed spaces to campus, mainly for upper-division undergraduates and graduate students.

This is in line with the UC Office of the President’s (UCOP) mandate to bring nearly 14,000 new housing beds to the UC system by 2020 and accommodate bed space requirements set by UCSC’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 4.27.50 PM

The LRDP outlines a pathway to serve 19,500 students by 2020, which according to CHES, would require 10,125 bed spaces once that enrollment target is met. Construction will last two years with the first 900 beds available by July 2020 to support the UCOP mandate, meet the LRDP requirement and respond to increasing student demand.

Though the final construction firm has yet to be decided, Matthews said one of the three remaining prospects will be selected by September 2017. But even after a firm is selected, the facility won’t be housing students for at least another three years. With this in mind, Matthews said CHES has been consolidating housing as much as possible.

“We had to adjust our housing guarantee for the entering fall 2017 class,” Matthews said. “Freshman still have a 2-year housing guarantee but transfers have a 1- instead of a 2-year and EOP [Education Opportunity Programs] students only have a 3-year guarantee not a 4-year guarantee.”

This will force more students to seek off-campus housing, CHES confirmed, in a city with its own housing issues. Santa Cruz is the third least affordable place to live in the country, according to Forbes.

“On-campus housing has a huge impact on off-campus housing, but the campus doesn’t want to talk about that because it gets into a whole other realm of controversy,” said Andrew Austin, a third-year student and appointed student representative on the SHW Development Team Selection Committee.

Employee Housing and Capital Planning Director Steve Houser added there will be more housing developments downtown too and that the City Council is beginning to take more initiative in building housing. Yet new units on campus and in town are not expected for at least another few years.

Austin said when the regents imposed their enrollment growth increases, they weren’t considerate of the strained nature of Santa Cruz.

“We have a large campus, but it’s a very fragile ecosystem,” Austin said, “the people in town feel that we are already way beyond our capacity.”

In efforts to accommodate nearly 800 new students over the last two years, CHES converted 141 lounges into dormitory spaces last year, leaving 17 lounges campuswide for students to use.

“What this has done is really compressed our space for students to be and hang out [and] we don’t have enough beds to accommodate our student interest,” Matthews said. “Last year we had between 800 and 1,000 students on our waitlist trying to get on-campus housing.”

Since the announcement of the P3 model, CHES reached out to students and student organizations to hear more about what students want in housing and residential spaces. In 2014, a student survey was conducted as part of a housing study and CHES began holding student engagement meetings. The meetings reflected desire for more affordable housing and more living space including social spaces like lounges. As the plans continue, CHES stated it will aim to include student involvement.

“There will be conceptual drawings for students to respond to [since] it is much easier to provide productive input when there are conceptual drawings,” Steve Houser said.

Among the several meetings held to discuss the P3 project, very few students have shown up. The results of a campuswide survey this year by the Student Environmental Center reflected that 32 percent of students have not heard about the P3 project but want to know more, and 38 percent have heard of it and also want more information.

“Student inclusion is usually a way of understanding concerns so that they can be better managed in terms of media, but there has historically been very little actual inclusion except for protest winning victories,” Austin said.

Austin also said he believes there will be protests in response to the developments. However, he thinks compared to protests of previous years — like the sit-ins for the Colleges Nine and Ten development and the upper campus expansion protests — there has been a decrease in activism when it comes to development and expansion.

In line with the historical context of UCSC having individual colleges to create a sense of community, SHW residents will maintain their college affiliations, since many will be continuing students. Yet because the residents will be upperclassmen, graduate students and families, there is some hesitation as to just how connected to the colleges the students will be.

“It’s the last remnant of us being an experimental university,” Austin said. “[…] I am really worried that part of campus will become a barracks for upperclassmen where people are living there because they have to.”