Colleges to study building affordable student housing
For the first time, Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges will explore building affordable housing for students. The new initiative is being funded by a pair of $150,000 state grants received by the colleges, enabling college leaders to take a serious look at ways of providing housing security to students in need.
The grants will fund a variety of financial, architectural, and environmental impact studies. Subsequent state grants would fund the construction of housing.
“Housing is a key factor in student success,” Lynn Neault, Chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. “If you’re hungry or you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, it’s going to be a huge challenge to focus on college. This grant is giving us resources to carefully look at the possibilities of how to provide our students with housing they can afford.”
The community college district sets aside funding for emergency housing for students in dire need, including vouchers for hotels, and provides for other basic needs through campus food pantries and food distributions.
This is believed to be the first time that the district will study building affordable housing for students. Neither college is equipped or staffed for traditional dormitory housing, so the feasibility studies will focus on other housing options. The colleges will look into public-private partnerships with firms that could build and manage the affordable housing.
Very few community colleges in California offer student housing. Those that do are mostly situated in remote rural areas. But as concerns about housing insecurity across the state have grown, community colleges have begun exploring the idea of building their own housing.
The grants are funded through California’s SB 169, which is providing $500 million for the Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program this year. The program supports new student housing or the renovation of commercial properties into affordable, low-cost housing for students in the University of California, California State University, and California Community College systems.
For the 2021-22 fiscal year, the California Department of Finance approved 75 applications for planning grants totaling about $18.2 million – all of them at community colleges. Grossmont and Cuyamaca are in this group. The Department of Finance also approved about $470.3 million in grant funding for construction projects at eight campuses in the University of California, California State University, and California Community College systems.
Another $750 million is expected to go to the program in the state’s 2022-23 fiscal year and $750 million more in the 2023-24 fiscal year.
Housing insecurity is a serious and persistent crisis across the San Diego region, one of the most expensive in the nation for real estate. The problem can be especially acute among college students. At Grossmont College, several student populations are at greater risk of housing insecurity compared to the general population. These populations include low- income students, which account for 55% of Grossmont’s 14,000 students; racially marginalized groups, which account for about 70%; Latinx students, which make up 39%; and Middle Eastern students, which make up about 10% of all immigrant students and refugees at the college. Also considered at high-risk of housing insecurity are the more than 400 Grossmont College students who are former foster youth, and nearly 800 students who are veterans.
Cuyamaca College has a similar student profile. Of the college’s 9,000 students, 58% are low-income; 34% identify as Latinx; close to 15% are immigrants or refugees from the Middle East; 4% are active duty military; and 4% are veterans. All of these groups are at higher risk of housing insecurity when compared to the general population.
The grants will enable the colleges to assess demand for affordable student housing, and consider other services that the colleges could offer, including mental health services and transportation.
“Addressing our students’ basic needs is critical to ensuring student success, and that includes mental and physical health, food, childcare, and other needs,” Neault said.
The district’s two colleges, Grossmont College in El Cajon and Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego, together serve about 24,000 students.
For information about the college district, go to www.gcccd.edu.