To accommodate those struggling with the high cost of living, San Mateo County Community College District officials are considering building student housing on their campuses.
The district Board of Trustees is slated to discuss the initiative at the upcoming board meeting, Wednesday, July 24, potentially setting the stage for the emerging proposal to gain momentum.
The concept arrives in the wake of legislation authored by Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, aiming to require community college districts to reserve space for students to sleep in their cars on campus.
Board President Maurice Goodman said while the legislation seeks to address the pressing needs of students living on the brink of homelessness, the local district has the opportunity to offer a more sustainable solution.
“We are in a position to be able to not just look at the immediate, but the long-term needs and solutions around student housing and the board is in full support of it,” said Goodman.
He noted the proposal is in its formative stage, and many details need to be hashed out during the upcoming discussion to craft a fuller vision for what may be possible at the district.
An essential element requiring additional attention is financing strategies, said Goodman. One option is to lease district land and allow a third party to operate the facility, while another would be to allow a nonprofit organization to develop the project and lean on revenue from international students living in the units to subsidize rents for veterans, foster youth or other students needing additional support, he said.
“At the next meeting, we will have more clear and direct answers for potential options for financing,” he said.
Goodman noted district officials have also talked to colleagues in other Bay Area counties considering building student housing to better understand the complexities of such an initiative.
Goodman said the district has parking lots on a variety of campuses where the developments could be built, plus other land which is currently undeveloped where the construction may occur.
The district already owns and operates hundreds of teacher and staff housing units at two campuses and a third housing development is underway on the Skyline College campus in San Bruno.
The success of the district’s program has been a model for other local school systems considering building similar developments as an appeal to teachers discouraged by the high cost of living on the Peninsula.
Goodman said the staff projects have been so popular, officials are considering building more units on the College of San Mateo and Cañada College campuses once the Skyline development is completed.
“The market and the environment in the Bay Area to be able to retain and recruit and keep our staff is getting more challenging,” said Goodman, regarding the motivation to build additional units for staff.
Further motivating the consideration to build student housing was feedback received during discussions around the Berman bill, and other input received from students requesting additional support, he said.
To that end, he noted the school system needs to expand the breadth of its programming and services to better accommodate the changing face of its student population.
“The identify of our community college students is definitely changing, the whole environment they are learning in is changing. Many students from all walks of life are taking advantage of community college, not just as a last resort but as a first option,” he said. “As they do that, we want to make sure they … are also able to benefit from the full extent of the advantages on their campuses and in their communities.”
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