Housing more students on campus

To: UC Santa Cruz Community

From: Chancellor George Blumenthal and Vice Chancellor Sarah Latham

UC Santa Cruz houses a greater percentage of undergraduates on campus than any other campus in the UC system—53 percent. That’s a point of pride for us, as research shows that living on campus is a critical factor in student success and retention. It also helps mitigate our impact on the local community.

Nevertheless, we have a serious problem. Converting double rooms to triples has helped us meet demand, and it’s a more affordable option for students, but our current campus housing density isn’t optimal. As of this fall, almost every lounge has been converted to a quad, and we lack the capacity to accommodate students who would live on campus if we had room for them.

And the pressure is only increasing. This fall, our campus enrolled 650 more Californians than a year ago as part of UC’s systemwide commitment to enroll 10,000 more in-state students through 2018. At the same time, off-campus housing options are vanishing. Santa Cruz County’s housing shortage is making international headlines as competition from Silicon Valley and vacation rentals drive up prices and reduce already-constrained availability.

We hear from students every day that the campus has reached a breaking point, and we agree. We know we must provide more housing for our students. In recent years, we have developed plans to renovate and add new housing on the west side of campus.

Until recently, however, we have been unable to move forward, due to various financial constraints, including cost of delivery and campus debt capacity. As a result, for more than a decade, we have been unable to undertake any substantial new housing construction on campus.

We have accommodated enrollment increases—and remained in compliance with our legal commitment to the local community to house a significant portion of our student population—only by increasing density. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz County has added roughly one housing unit for every 10 new residents. On and off campus, demand is outpacing supply.

However, a new student-housing initiative launched by the UC Office of the President will allow us to build the housing we need by 2020 while focusing on affordability for students.

Through a combination of renovation and new construction, our goal is to generate approximately 3,000 beds, allowing us to restore lounges, reduce overcrowding, and meet the on-campus housing demand among students. The first new beds will be online in three years.

Although other UC campuses have used public-private partnerships (P3), we will be the first to participate in the Office of the President’s new systemwide program. This new model will identify a short-list of developers from across the state and beyond who will be able to bid on housing projects on participating campuses. The potential to deliver a large number of beds is attractive to prospective developers; there has already been a high level of interest from the development community. This benefits a campus such as UC Santa Cruz, where the construction challenges include our remote location, our geology, and our proximity to Silicon Valley, which means we compete for contracts with developers who are focused on the lucrative market over the hill.

We are confident the P3 model will bring an influx of creative thinking and problem solving to our housing challenges. Student housing is our top priority, but we are using P3 to simultaneously explore ways to add faculty and staff housing, as well as child care for employees–the prospect of which may further entice developers to work with UC Santa Cruz.

Embarking on a public-private partnership of this scale is new for this campus; we see it as a tremendous opportunity. What won’t change is our commitment to quality and our compliance with all applicable building standards, health and safety regulations, sustainability policies, and environmental review and compliance processes. This will be our project, and we will retain oversight.

We need to do our part to house more students on campus, because it’s the right thing for students, and because it will minimize our impact on town. This approach will maximize our investment while holding down costs for students. The next step comes early in 2017 when the campus issues a “request for proposals.” We will keep you informed as we make progress on this important campus initiative.