More housing for our students, child-care for employees

To: UC Santa Cruz Community

From: Chancellor Cynthia Larive

Students on bridge

Later this month, I will seek reapproval from the Board of Regents for a vitally important campus housing and child-care project. Student Housing West, with more than 3,000 beds, a new complex for students with families, and a child-care facility that will be open to all employees, is the largest stand-alone housing project our campus has ever proposed, and would provide more desperately needed on-campus housing for our students. The project was approved by Regents two years ago but then challenged in court. We prevailed on many issues, but the court concluded errors were made in the process the Regents used when they approved the project, requiring us to return to the board.

We already house 50 percent of our students, more than any other University of California campus, because we know that access to a UC Santa Cruz education requires access to secure and affordable housing. There just isn’t enough of that in and around Santa Cruz and there certainly aren’t enough housing options for our students from low-income backgrounds. Student Housing West is the best course for us to secure the most beds to serve our current students. We haven’t built a significant amount of housing on the UC Santa Cruz campus in nearly 20 years. It’s time.

The benefits of Student Housing West will be many. Studies show that students who live on campus have a greater chance of matriculating through to graduation. This project will draw upper-division undergraduates now living in the community back to campus, giving them a secure, affordable housing option while also easing pressure on the local housing market. The project will allow us to reduce overcrowding in existing dorms and restore some of the lounge space we have converted to sleeping space in recent years to meet the steep housing demand. It will create a new residential community for students with families, situated within walking distance of the local elementary school and near the residential communities where we house our staff and faculty. It will aid our campus community in other ways, too, finally enabling us to offer faculty and staff child-care support that is currently available only to students with children.

I encourage you to visit the Student Housing West website, which details the project. There is an FAQ section for those new to campus who might have questions.

The Student Housing West project does not enjoy unanimous support. Some of our strongest campus supporters have opposed the project, particularly the portion proposed for the base of the East Meadow, arguing that the area should remain untouched. I have welcomed, valued and considered their opinions.

I was not chancellor when Student Housing West was proposed. That has granted me the opportunity to look at the project with fresh eyes. Over the past 18 months I have studied it and listened to and asked questions of many in our community — project supporters and critics — with an eye toward meeting the project objectives while also satisfying the concerns of all of our stakeholders. There is no simple answer, but the proposed project fulfills our shared values: to support our students and to be a good partner to our community.

I have come to understand that building anywhere on our campus is a tightrope walk. We live, work and learn in a stunning natural setting. Regardless of where we build, there will be impacts and opposition. I believe strongly that Student Housing West, as approved by the Regents in March 2019, is the best path for us to deliver more desperately needed quality housing for our students as quickly as possible and at the lowest possible price. The price tag is important because the cost of a more expensive project would be borne largely by students. Housing is an auxiliary unit that cannot be funded centrally through state funds or tuition.

The housing crisis in our community is not going away. It has only worsened since the Regents first gave this project their stamp of approval. In August of this past year, the CZU Lightning Complex fires destroyed nearly 1,000 homes in Santa Cruz County. Exacerbating the problem, we’re now seeing Silicon Valley employees who are working remotely buying up homes on this side of the hill, deciding working from home here is much preferred to settling down in the Santa Clara Valley. Many UC Santa Cruz students and their families, meanwhile, have been hit hard economically by the pandemic, and many will return to campus in an even more difficult financial position.

We cannot just talk about our values. We must live them. The proposed Student Housing West project exemplifies our values as well as the values of our community and our founders. It is a project that honors our past, addresses our present student housing needs, and will serve the needs of our students and our employees well into our future.