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Cal State officials approve much-needed affordable housing plans for students

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San Francisco State University campus.

Three Cal State campuses — CSU Dominguez Hills, Cal Poly Humboldt, and San Francisco State — can move ahead with badly needed student housing.

The Cal State board of trustees voted Wednesday to approve plans for all three projects. 

They had already been approved to receive funding through the Higher Education Student Housing Grant program.

The Legislature awarded CSU $492.5 million to build nearly 3,100 affordable beds across nine campuses last year. The grant was created to address the high price of rent and living across the state, which has limited students’ ability to attend college. 

“Our experience shows that housing insecurity is one of the biggest challenges our students face,” San Francisco State President Lynn Mahoney said. “Access to safe, stable and affordable housing is one of the leading predictors for student success. And expanding access to affordable housing to freshmen in the extremely expensive Bay Area market is particularly critical.” 

Mahoney said it’s common for the campus to have more than 2,000 students on the waitlist for housing. Although the campus saw waitlist numbers fall below that this fall, Mahoney said that’s because “they’ve given up asking for campus housing.” 

“My enrollment will improve dramatically if I can promise first-year and second-year students campus housing,” said Mahoney, citing news earlier in the week that SFSU was 10% below its target enrollment numbers for the year. 

California students, not just within the 23-campus CSU system, but across the state’s community colleges and University of California systems, face dire housing challenges. Most CSU campuses don’t guarantee housing for any incoming students.

The San Franciso State plan

Although SFSU is receiving grants for the new housing, the funding doesn’t cover full cost of the project.  The affordable student housing grant will only cover $116.3 million of the $127.6 million project, of which $33.4 million will go to a health center and dining space.

The board approved using CSU revenue bonds to co-fund the housing portion of the project Wednesday. The total cost of the project is estimated at nearly $179 million. 

SFSU’s West Campus Green Student Housing and Health Center plan includes building a 120,000 square-foot, six-story dormitory with beds for 750 students. The project also includes a three-story, 49,900 square-foot building with dining and a health center. 

The dorms would consist of three-person “pod-concept” rooms clustered around a common lounge or learning space and shared bathrooms. It’ll also hold study spaces, meeting rooms, recreational areas, and office space for residential administrators. The health center will house wellness, psychological and counseling services. San Francisco State estimates construction to start on the project this May, with students occupying the building by December 2024. 

The Dominguez Hills plan

The student housing planned for CSU Dominguez Hills would consist of a six-story residence hall and a one-story dining facility. The project is also funded with $48.7 million from the affordable housing grant and $20 million in one-time state funding received in 2021. The total project is expected to cost about $104.5 million.

But already, the Dominguez Hills plan is over budget. 

One problem campus leaders are contending with is escalating construction costs, said Steve Relyea, executive vice chancellor and chief financial officer for the system, adding that the design team on the project is working to reduce costs by making changes. For example, the design team is examining if the residence hall should be fewer stories tall.  

But the campus will also need to go to the trustees in the future for about $26.3 million of additional funding through bonds, Elvyra San Juan, an assistant vice chancellor for the system, said. 

“One of the challenges in redesigning the facility is that it takes time to redesign,” she said. By the time the plan has been redesigned, the project could still cost more because construction costs continue to escalate, she said. 

The dorm would house 365 students in single, double and triple traditional-style halls organized in clusters of 36 students and one resident advisor. Each cluster will have communal restrooms, activity rooms and study nooks. Shared student lounges will connect two clusters of students. The project will also be Dominguez HIlls’ first “resident-centered” dining facility. 

The project is expected to start this November and the campus estimates students will move in by February 2026. 

The Humboldt plan

The project planned at Cal Poly Humboldt includes a 303,000 square-foot housing complex near Highway 101. The campus would see two new buildings, including a seven-story building and a six-story building for a total of 964 apartment-style beds. The dorms would include study rooms, student lounges, an outdoor barbecue area, fitness spaces, indoor bicycle parking and a cafe space. 

The Humboldt campus is seeing a 140% increase in housing applications for this coming fall compared with last year, President Tom Jackson said. 

“Housing is our No. 1 barrier to our polytechnic transformation due to the unique housing challenges in our community,” Jackson said, adding that there is little off-campus housing available to students. Ultimately the campus wants to add approximately 4,000 more beds. 

Construction is expected to start next month with students moving in by July 2025. The project will be funded by nearly $119 million from 2021-22 state dollars and $27.1 million from the housing grant. But the campus also plans to ask the trustees for nearly $70 million in bond financing in the future. The total project is expected to cost more than $215 million.

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