Unable to secure off-campus housing in San Francisco on a student budget, San Francisco State University student Lea Loeb suddenly found herself homeless after the lease to her freshman dorm expired in the spring of 2014.
“I kept all my stuff in my boyfriend’s car. I was trying really hard to find a place and I had friends who wanted to get a place together, but it was too expensive and we were not getting approved for leases,” Loeb said, adding that a brief stint of homelessness ended when she dropped out of school.
“It was rough. After a few months, I decided to move back home where I had my own room for $400 a month,” Loeb, who is a native of Visalia, Calif., said.
Loeb’s struggle is not unique. Across the Bay Area, thousands of students are struggling to afford accommodations, forcing universities and colleges to find new ways to address a growing demand for student housing quickly.
While students across San Francisco’s more than two dozen college campuses prepare for the start of the fall semester, more than 3,800 beds reserved solely for students are in the pipeline as some institutions inch closer to building new housing to keep students from being priced out.
SFSU’s leadership is seeking to clear a waitlist of more than 2,000 people for student housing and also meet its goal of more than tripling its capacity to house students on campus — from an estimated 3,500 current beds to 12,500 beds — in the coming years.
A first step in that direction is a mixed-use housing project financed by a public-private partnership that will bring upward of 550 beds to Varela and Holloway avenues by 2020. Construction for the project is set to begin in October.
“The waitlist numbers fluctuate — sometimes it’s as high as 3,000 — which is a perfect example of why we need student housing,” said Jason Porth, vice president of University Enterprises at SFSU.
“It shows us that there are times when students ultimately give up,” he said. “We lose students who may otherwise have come here because they frankly can’t find housing.”
UC Hastings College of the Law, located in the Tenderloin, plans to build upward in an effort to bring a total of 1,000 beds online for students by the summer of 2024.
Under an expansion plan that includes the construction of a new academic building at 333 Golden Gate Ave., two university-owned buildings at 198 McAllister St. and 50 Hyde St. will be demolished to make room for a 14-story residential tower.
The tower, set to come online in 2022, will be split with students attending the UC San Francisco, who will occupy 40 percent of its beds.
Upon completion of that project, UC Hastings’ current residential dorm providing 255 units to graduate students at 100 McAllister St. will be renovated, and it’s units expanded to 270 by 2024.
UC Hastings’ Chancellor and Dean, David Faigman, hopes the housing expansion will help keep the university competitive in retaining qualified students, while helping to relieve The City’s highly pressurized rental housing market.
“We are essentially taking 1,000 students off of that market and that should open it up for others,” Faigman said.
Apart from the student housing collaboration with UC Hastings, the construction of 595 furnished units, 381 efficiency units, 103 studios and 111 two-bedroom apartments for students and trainees is underway at UCSF’s Mission Bay Campus at 590 and 600 Minnesota St. Those units are expected to come online by summer 2019.
Construction of a 12-story building that will provide housing, educational and performance spaces to students of the Conservatory of Music has broken ground in the Civic Center neighborhood.
The project’s residential component will bring 420 housing units to 50 Oak St. by 2020, providing accommodation for nearly all of the conservatory’s 440 students.
“The demand for student housing is enormous,” said David Stull, the conservatory’s president, adding that “99 percent” of the school’s students receive financial aid. “For us to maintain the level of excellence we have achieved, it has become clear that we need to build housing,” he said.
Also underway is the construction of two four-story dorms with 150 student apartments, or 606 beds, at the University of San Francisco’s Lone Mountain campus at an estimated cost $68 million.
According to a USF spokesperson, the new halls will increase current capacity for on campus student living from 2,138 to 2,738, and will be completed in 2020.
Last month, the California College of the Arts received approval by the San Francisco Planning Commission to construct a new five-story, 56-foot tall building at 188 Hooper St. that will provide 520 beds for some of its 1,950 students.
The Balboa Reservoir, a Public Utilities Commission -owned site that currently provides parking spaces to students attending the City College of San Francisco Ocean campus at 50 Phelan Ave. is pegged for development into 1,100 homes.
The college’s board of trustees urged the the projects developer to earmark some of that housing for students and faculty, citing a growing population of homeless and marginally-housed students enrolled at the college.
Porth, of SFSU, noted housing insecurity among students is directly linked to their academic success.
“The data shows that when students live on campus, they are often more successful than when they do not,” he said.” They can take advantage of campus resources, spend less time commuting and are more engaged with their studies.”
Loeb, who has re-enrolled at SFSU, attributes her class standing as a “perpetual junior” to the lack of affordable housing on or near campus and The City’s high cost of living that has at times stunted her academic progression.
“When you support yourself, it’s hard to go to school full-time. I can only take as many classes as I can afford,” Loeb said.
While she has found affordable accommodation in the Excelsior District, Loeb said her grades have suffered while learning to balance her classes, work and a new commute.
“There are so many times where I have not wanted to go to an 8 a.m. class because I had to leave so much earlier to get there on time, or I’m stuck in traffic and don’t see the point in going,” she said.