SF searches for solutions to house college students

San Francisco’s institutions of higher learning — from colleges and universities to art institutes — are struggling to house their students.

The lack of student housing in San Francisco is putting pressure on the already crowded housing market, with half of the more than 80,000 college students in The City competing with families and everyone else for housing, according to school leaders and the Planning Department.

That’s why nine higher-education institutions wrote to the Planning Commission in recent weeks, calling on The City to make it easier for them to create housing for students. The current rules for developing student housing put a strain on their budgets and make competing for space a struggle, according to school leaders.

On Thursday, the Planning Commission is expected to review a city ordinance requiring colleges and universities to own or at least have a five-year master lease on a student-housing project for it to be exempt from having below-market-rate units.

If a college has a less than five year lease on a development at present, it would have to include on or off-site affordable housing.

Under a proposal before the commission, the institutions would only need a two-year lease for exemption from inclusionary housing requirements.

A shorter lease would create room in the schools’ budgets — improving their financial health scores — and allow them to act more “entrepreneurial,” said David Fike, the president of Golden Gate University.

“It gives us the ability to adapt our strategies and our housing plans based on what we learned in a very dynamic market,” Fike said, referring to the housing market. “We don’t know how long this pinch is going to go on.”

Golden Gate University has about 3,000 students but offers no student housing. In a dense housing market, Fike said that has dissuaded students from around the country and world who are interested in studying law in San Francisco.

“It would help us significantly because we do have an increasingly high number of students who are finding it difficult to choose us as their college of choice because of the cost of living in San Francisco,” Fike said.

Changing the ordinance would also help the California College of the Arts in its push to build 600 homes for students in the Design District, according to David Meckel, the college’s director of campus planning. The college has had some issues finding room in its budget for a five-year lease at 188 Hooper St.

“It’s very difficult to get the numbers to work,” Meckel said.

Meckel said the college was one of just two able to take advantage of the latest iteration of the ordinance, passed in 2012, which widened the berth of institutions that are exempt from inclusionary housing requirements.

Since then, CCA teamed up with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to develop 10 stories of student housing at 1321 Mission St. Other institutions, he said, were just not able to “carry the full load of a five-year lease on their balance sheet.”

Just recently, Meckel said between 20 and 30 students moved into the new apartments at Potrero 1010, at 16th Street.

“These students are ganging up and taking houses and large flats off the market that families should be renting,” he said. “I’ll know the student legislation is a success when a new apartment building opens up and there’s no students living there.”

The Board of Supervisors will still have to approve the proposal if it passes at the Planning Commission this week.

Michael Barba
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Michael Barba

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