San Mateo County Community College District moves on student housing vision – San Mateo Daily Journal

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Updated: October 19, 2021 @ 4:36 am

Aiming to bring a long-time vision of student housing to life, San Mateo County Community College District officials are pushing to meet a tight two-week deadline to qualify for millions in state funding for the project. 
“I think it’s an outstanding opportunity for the entire community college system, the entire system in California,” Dr. Richard Storti, executive vice chancellor for Administrative Services, said during a district Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday, Oct. 13. 
Student housing within the community college district has been a priority for officials since 2019 but a new $2 billion state funding opportunity has expedited plans to push the initiative forward. On Oct. 7, the California Department of Finance released guidance for how districts with “shovel ready” projects can access the initial round of funding amounting to $500 million. 
Applications for the funds are due Oct. 31, only 24 days after releasing the guidance. But Vice Chancellor Mitch Bailey shared confidence that staff could return to the board with a proposal by its next meeting Oct. 27. 
Alternatively, the district could seek a state planning grant which would help the district develop a fuller proposal in time for the next round of project funding when a greater pool of applicants are also likely to be applying. 
A detailed plan has not been drafted but Storti said applicants would have until Dec. 31, 2022 or near there after, to have plans finalized. Bailey said staff intend to use that ambiguity to the district’s favor, submitting an application with loose details but “it needs to have enough wink and nudge to it that it’ll get us by, through this round.” 
If approved for the grant, the district would be subject to some guidelines. If it uses 100% of the state funding for the project then units would only be available to full-time students. 
With about 67% of the district’s student body on campus part time, Storti said the district could get around the requirement if it supplemented part of the project with its own funds. Bailey added that offering to also contribute to the project could make the district’s application more attractive. 
Trustee John Pimentel suggested staff research whether using district land could count toward the district’s contribution, noting land costs could account for 10% to 30% of project expenses.
Additionally, the state prohibits districts from using the funds to purchase existing housing developments or hotels which would go against its goal to add to the stock of housing in the region, Storti said. 
Student interest
The district would also be required to list the units at below-market-rate. A significant number of students would be interested in student housing, according to a 2020 study by The Scion Group. About 2,000 units would be in demand if the development was located at the College of San Mateo, up to 2,551 units when the survey suggested the housing would be available at below-market rates.
It’s still unclear what types of units would be included in the project which will depend on whether the board is interested in permitting families and children to live on site. And officials noted a blend of approaches would be needed to fully address housing needs, such as capitalizing on public and private partnerships or redevelopment of existing commercial and office buildings. 
Either way, Board President Thomas Nuris discouraged the district from flipping a commercial space, noting it’s often easier less expensive to build from scratch even if a building needed to be demolished.
Speaking on who should be permitted to live in the housing, Pimentel said he would not support allowing international students to claim the spots built by public funding. Renting units to foreign students at market rates was previously suggested as a way to subsidize housing for low-income students. 
Alternatively, Trustee Maurice Goodman said the units should also be open to students who would have attended classes at one of the county’s three community colleges had financial barriers not pushed them out of the region. 
“This housing crisis, this economic crisis many of our students and our residents find themselves in has led a lot of our students to move out of this area, to move out of our county. So by disallowing them to come back to the county that they once called home would not be something I’d be OK with,” Goodman said. 
Next steps
Trustees were eager to jump on the opportunity, with Trustee Richard Holober saying it’s “now or never.” Still, he lambasted the state for the short notice it gave to the institution and supported public calls to seek adequate public comment, a sentiment shared by Trustee Lisa Petrides. 
Alternatively, Nuris noted that the district has long worked on the initiative before the pandemic forced momentum to come to a “grinding halt.” Rather than getting “bogged down in a lot of detail,” and immediately engaging with neighborhood concerns, Nuris said his job is to put the needs of the students first. 
“Those are the selfish concerns of a lot of people. They’re not looking at what we’re looking at, which is what’s in the best interests of the students and the district,” Nuris said. 
By seeking funding in the first round, the district would also be competing against fewer institutions for funding, increasing the likelihood the application will be approved and further encouraging the mad dash to submit an application by the Oct. 31 deadline, officials suggested. 
Bailey said the state would give a final decision on the application between May and July next year. Meanwhile, the district would conduct outreach with the community and stakeholders, he said. 
“It’s a big climb, there’s no doubt about it. We are not fooling ourselves whatsoever,” Bailey said. “And we’re going to need additional resources to be able to do it but this is a priority of the board and it’s a priority of ours.” 
[email protected] 
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106
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