State Sen. John Laird said he’s “very optimistic” that the state will put $111 million toward a 624-bed student housing project being jointly developed by Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz. On Monday, Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz staff will discuss the joint housing proposal, its environmental impact reports and the possibility of the state grant. The meeting will be held in the Horticulture Building on Cabrillo’s Aptos campus.
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Supporters of a 624-bed housing complex being jointly developed by Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz say they expect the state to approve $111 million in grant funding for the project if the California Legislature passes the budget as recommended by both the governor and the Legislature on June 15.
State Sen. John Laird said he’s “very optimistic” about the project — which would be located next to the baseball and softball fields at Cabrillo College’s Aptos campus. He sits on the Senate budget subcommittee on education, which also recommended the funding.
“The governor supported it in his budget and it’s been in ours,” he said Thursday. “But it still has to be in the final budget and the governor has to sign it. The odds look really good at this point.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom kept the funding for higher education housing grants in his revised budget in May, despite pressures to use it to address the state’s projected $31.5 billion budget deficit. His proposal would keep $450 million one-time funding in the budget for 2023-24 for grant applications from campuses in the California Community Colleges, California State University and University of California systems.
Housing Project Community Meeting
On Monday, June 5, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz staff will discuss the joint housing proposal, its environmental impact reports and the possibility of the state grant.
The meeting will be held in the Horticulture Building on Cabrillo’s Aptos campus.
That amount could fund up to eight projects, considering the amounts requested by the top eight proposals ranked by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. Cabrillo College is ranked No. 7 among the projects.
Cabrillo College President Matt Wetstein has been planning and working toward this moment for years. “So, we’re just waiting to hear,” said Wetstein. “I’m excited about the prospect.”
The college doesn’t currently have student housing and says it urgently needs it to address what students and faculty say is the biggest challenge for students’ academic success.
Students in Santa Cruz face the second-most-expensive rental market in the country. Across the California Community Colleges system of 2 million students, about 1 in 5 students report experiencing homelessness at some point during the academic year. In 2020, 16% of UC students reported sleeping in a hotel, outdoor location or other nontraditional housing because they couldn’t find permanent housing.
Laird says the crisis of housing insecurity across the state is contributing to a shift from community colleges not typically offering housing to it becoming a necessity.
Of the 116 community colleges in California, 12 have student housing programs, and Santa Rosa Junior College recently received financing for a 352-bed project.
The joint Cabrillo-UCSC project is budgeted for a total of $181.7 million. About 250 of the beds would be for UCSC students and about 374 beds would be for Cabrillo students.
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Preliminary plans include a family wing with 60 units, an apartment wing with 96 units and a traditional dormitory wing with 115 students. The housing complex will also have a day care and a screening entrance to control access to the facility. UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason said the university is looking into different transportation options for its students to commute to the Santa Cruz campus — which is about 8 miles from the Cabrillo campus and where the student housing project would be located.
Cabrillo asked the state to fund its portion of the construction costs — $111 million — through the Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program. Including Cabrillo’s proposal, the grant program received 21 applications for the construction grant in January.
Laird said the University of California plans to issue bonds for the UC Santa Cruz portion of the costs — about $70 million.
The housing grant program was created by the legislature as part of the 2021-22 budget package to bring “affordable, low‑cost housing options for students enrolled in public postsecondary education in California.”
For the first round of applications, which were approved last year, a total of 12 community colleges received funding. This year’s grant applications are the second round.
If Cabrillo’s grant is approved, Wetstein estimates the project could break ground in September 2024.
Despite the support from the governor’s office and the legislature, there’s one state entity opposing the allocation to the higher education housing grant program.
The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended putting the $450 million earmarked for the higher education housing grant program toward other uses, such as reducing the state deficit.
“The housing project proposals are in early planning phases, no data is yet available on the impact of the first round of housing grants, the state’s role in subsidizing on‑campus housing remains unclear, and other state programs might provide more effective avenues for improving college affordability and reducing student housing insecurity,” the office wrote in a recommendation.
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Laird called the LAO’s recommendations “a nonstarter.”
“We are going to do this,” he said, “in part because the housing crisis is just extreme in certain coastal areas that have higher education institutions. This really would address needs at both Cabrillo College and the University of California.”
Cabrillo College and UCSC are still in the early stages of planning for the proposal as they’re waiting on the state funding to move forward.
Wetstein said they’ve spent $242,000 on the basic planning and designs for the size of the project and the location as well as the environmental impact report.
“It’s kind of like feeling like you’re at the end of a long race,” he said. “You can see the finish tape, and recognize that, ‘Oh my gosh, if I cross that tape, I have another long race.’”