Napa, Santa Rosa community colleges join nearly dozen in California creating housing for students

Want more evidence that times are changing? Look no further than college life.

It wasn't so long ago when community colleges were primarily considered commuter colleges, and students wanting to live on campus would have to attend a University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) campus.

But nowadays, 11 of the state's 114 community colleges have added on-campus housing, and three more are in various stages of development. One already underway is Orange Coast College in Southern California; the other two are in the development process - and happen to be in the North Bay: Napa Valley College and Santa Rosa Junior College.

SRJC just completed the design phase of its $47 million five-story development, with capacity for up to 378 students. The housing will be located at Elliot Avenue and Armory drive, next to Highway 101, where there's also a proposed pedestrian bridge.

SRJC started talking about pursuing on-campus housing in 2015, then “things accelerated exponentially” after the October 2017 fires, said Frank Chong, president of SRJC. He appointed Pedro Avila, vice president of student services, to take the lead on developing the project.

Now that the design has been finalized, SRJC and the project developer, Texas-based Servitas, will put out a request for proposal to finance the project as a public-private partnership, or a P3. The project also is moving into the approval and permit process with the Division of the State Architect, which can take between six and nine months, according to Avila.

An open forum with the community is set for Wednesday, Sept. 11, and a campus meeting will be held the next day.

“Now that we have a finalized design, this is that next step,” Avila said.

If all goes as planned, the project will be financed and breaking ground in November 2020, and ready for occupancy for the fall 2022 semester.

Servitas provided projected rental rates with the stipulation that the numbers don't account for inflation or final construction costs. Projected prices for the homes go from $843 per month to $1,321 per month, depending on the size of the unit.

The lack of affordable housing, food insecurity and different needs among the community college population are the big drivers for Santa Rosa Junior College to pursue on-campus housing, according to Chong.

SRJC's students in need of housing also include 800 homeless students, as well as former foster children who are experiencing “extreme hardships” as adults, Chong said.

“We're hoping to do some fundraising with our foundation to subsidize some students,” Chong said. “So potentially, you can get a donor who can buy an apartment and then let the student (live there) for a reduced rate.”

In recent years, there's been a growing awareness that more community college students are food insecure or homeless, and that one solution is to build on-campus housing, said Colleen Ganley, program specialist, educational services, at the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, a Sacramento-based state-funded agency. She noted that not all community colleges have enough space to accommodate on-campus housing.

“Last year, the legislature provided funding for us in the 2018-2019 budget to conduct a basic needs survey across our system,” Ganley said.

So I think there's a growing awareness that nontuition costs - things like rent, food and child care - are impacting students and making it harder for them to go to school Colleen Ganley, California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office

The chancellor's office worked with the Hope Center at Temple University to administer the survey across California's community college system. The data showed that 50% of the students reported experiencing food insecurity in the previous 30 days; 60%, housing insecurity in the previous 12 months; and 19%, homelessness within the previous 12 months, she said.

“So I think there's a growing awareness that nontuition costs - things like rent, food and child care - are impacting students and making it harder for them to go to school,” Ganley said.


Over at Napa Valley College, plans are moving along for its on-campus housing project. The college last month received unanimous approval from its board of directors to move forward with predevelopment plans, according to Holly Dawson, public information officer, Office of the President, Napa Valley College.

The college has now entered into an agreement with The Martin Group and begun work on a 90-day feasibility study that must be complete no later than Dec. 2, according to Robert Parker, assistant superintendent and vice president of administrative services.

According to the agreement, the parties will collaborate on the “selection of the third-party design, engineering, construction, and other professionals necessary for the planning, design, engineering, permitting, environmental review, financing, construction and overall development of the project.”

The predevelopment phase is expected to take between 12 and 18 months, followed by state approvals, Parker said. If the timeline goes as anticipated, construction would begin in May 2021. The college has been seriously considering campus housing for three years; in 2017, it commissioned The Scion Group to study demand. Scion also performed the study for SRJC.

It would appear that the demand would cover the cost of developing and maintaining the student housing complex on campus. Holly Dawson, Napa Valley College

Scion found sufficient demand to support over 300 beds of student housing, but the final number will be confirmed as part of the analysis, according to Dawson.

“It would appear that the demand would cover the cost of developing and maintaining the student housing complex on campus,” Parker said. “We have unused land at the north end of our campus that has been designated.”

Scion's study found that rental rates for on-campus student housing could range from $750 to $1,300 a month, depending on the size of the apartment. Comparatively, off-campus housing rates at the time of the study ran between $1,722 and $2,142 per month.

But Dawson cautions that these stated rates were to give students a general idea. Construction costs and opportunities are still being explored, including the possibility of modular construction, which could help lower costs and subsequently keep rents down.

The on-campus apartments at both colleges will be fully furnished.

And like SRJC, NVC also is leaning toward going with a P3, in which a nonprofit organization would lease the ground where the housing will be constructed, and issue tax-exempt bonds to fund the project, Parker said.

“We're moving in that direction because it doesn't increase the debt load or debt service on the college itself,” he said. “So at the end of the day, what that means is the local taxpayers are not paying for this facility because it's being financed by the nonprofit.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at or 707-521-4259.

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