New Housing Project at UC Santa Cruz

New Housing Project at UC Santa Cruz

By: Josie Buchanan


Among the issues people consider to be driving the Santa Cruz rental crisis, the one that never fails to escape mention is the student population from UC Santa Cruz. It is a popular belief among residents that Santa Cruz is not able to sustain a population as large as it currently is. At the current rate, Santa Cruz County adds only one rental unit for every ten residents they gain, a rate that is simply not sustainable. Yet as the tech industry expands over the hill and UC Santa Cruz takes on more students every year it is becoming more and more a matter of needing to adapt to the growing population instead of fighting it – and fast.


The current 18,000 student population of the campus is a contentious issue for students and Santa Cruz residents alike, this predicament is not however due to negligence of campus’ administration. In fact, it is far from it from it – UC Santa Cruz currently houses more students than any other  UC campus with 53% of the undergraduate student body residing on campus. UC Santa Cruz’s administration has taken several measures to increase this number with the means they already have – shifting double rooms into triples and changing campus lounges into dorms. These measures are reasonably effective to get more bodies on campus as a stopgap, but gen, rally decrease the quality of life for residents who are left with no personal space in their dorm and no communal spaces to escape to.


There is no quick fix to this problem. As a college education has become a near requirement in order to be successful in the modern workplace, and as the population of California continues to swell. UC Santa Cruz is facing what Chancellor Blumenthal called in an update about UCSC’s long range development plan, “unprecedented enrollment pressure.” A record breaking 53,000 applicants applied for first year admittance to UCSC as well as 11,300 transfers. This spike in applicants is being seen across the board of UC campuses – a push that has led UC President Napolitano to bring a mandate to let in 10,000 more in-state California students across all the UCs. President Napolitano used the same December 2016 mandate to call for 14,000 more beds to be constructed across all of the UC Campuses.


Though UC Santa Cruz received the smallest number in this mandate, the number of students at UCSC will continue to grow every year for the foreseeable future. Chancellor Blumenthal is currently in development of the 2040 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). A draft has yet to be released. However, the outer enrollment envelope the Chancellor has asked the LRDP Planning Committee to consider is 28,000 by the year 2040. This document is not a projection or an enrollment plan, the LRDP instead is a written strategy of how the campus can best accommodate this projected growth and its impact on housing as well as the issues of water, transportation, and others issues.

A number that many Santa Cruz residents will likely find concerning, to address this the Chancellor described in the same update message (mentioned above) that this number does not “come out of thin air” but is based on a combination of statewide growth, legislative and systemwide enrollment pressures, and an ongoing commitment from UC Santa Cruz to equal  access and social justice. What many may not realize is that this figure has been public for nearly 60 years. Approximately 28,000 students has been the enrollment vision for UC Santa Cruz since its founding. This number was first outlined in the original LRDP in 1963 and was created not long after the city of Santa Cruz approached UC about building the campus. This would be an increase in UCSC student population by 1.5 to 2% each year, or about 400 more students annually to a total of 28,000 students by 2040.  


This swell of students seems like to burst the fragile bubble of housing that already exists in Santa Cruz, and concern over this issue is nothing new. In a settlement between the City of Santa Cruz and the Campus, UCSC agreed to house 67% of new enrollment students on campus, instead of their initial number of 50%, a regulation that the campus has followed completely.  This promise, however, comes against the unavoidable issue of funding. The need for more on campus accommodation has been growing towards its current breaking point for almost a decade now, yet restrictions from various financial constraints, including cost of delivery and campus debt capacity, as well as the fact that tuition dollars cannot be spent on the construction of student housing, have made expansion nearly impossible.


It is these restrictions that have led the University to their current endeavors – a major housing initiative being pursued through, something called a public-private partnership or P3. A P3 model is a contract between a public sector entity and a private sector entity that outlines the provision of assets and the delivery of services. Or more simply, a private developer has been selected to build infrastructure on land owned by the campus and the project will be financed through tax exempt bonds, as UC Santa Cruz does not themselves have the means to do so. Although other UC campuses have used public-private partnerships (P3), UC Santa Cruz will not be the first to do so to build student housing. They are however the first to submit a request for proposal (RFP) to select a developer under President Napolitano’s new system-wide housing initiative.


The new addition will be split into two projects, the first named Student Housing West will be located on Heller Drive in the West Side of Campus where Family Student Housing is currently located. These units will be apartment style and be designated to upper division and graduate students. This specification allows underclassmen to continue to reside in the college they are associated with for at least their first two years at UCSC – something very important to the learning design of UCSC. The other half of the project will be designated for students with families, and reside on the east side of lower campus by the current base entrance – and will include childcare options. Overall, the project will add 3,000 beds by the time it is completed in 2022, and promises 900 of those beds by Fall of 2020. Administration anticipates that this project will net about 2,100 beds when you consider the replacement of family student housing and the restoration of many lounges from dorms back to community spaces.  


In the process of this project, the campus went through a thorough selection process over the course of last year, beginning with eight development teams submitting their ideas and proposals before settling on the developer Capstone. Capstone was selected to construct the housing, but will not own the new units. The units in Student Housing West will be owned by a third-party nonprofit and funded through tax exempt bonds. Capstone will not have a financial stake in the project itself per se, that instead lies in the use of the tax exempt bonds. This is done alongside written confirmation from Capstone that these units will never supersede the cost of other on campus housing, and will be eligible to all the same financial aid benefits students would receive in any other student housing unit.


So far the campus has held several meeting to hear concerns of students, faculty, and Santa Cruz residents alike. The concern of residents over the student population is far from a myth, beyond general qualms shared by locals of students clogging up beaches and congesting traffic, the most glaring issue is intrinsic with the shortage of rental housing. Anyone who has sought out rental housing in Santa Cruz knows how desperate a search it can be. A report by the Santa Cruz City Council released last year found that the average vacancy rate for rentals is only 1.5 percent of the market available for rent in Santa Cruz at one time. Though the initial fear of bringing in a private developer has raised the hackles of all of these groups, there are seemingly no other options.


Student Housing West will bring 3,000 new beds to UC Santa Cruz as well as restoring communal spaces and adding a much needed child care options to the campus. It is the pursuit of this development to alleviate pressure from the neighborhoods of Santa Cruz in the hope of freeing up the rental market and allowing for more longer term rentals.


To stay updated on the progress of Student Housing West and to stay up to date on meeting surrounding the endeavor sign up for the University’s official website.