Cañada campus housing — for workers

While employees in California’s schools, hospitals and public-safety agencies still struggle to afford housing close to their jobs, the San Mateo County Community College District is finding ways to build housing for its employees.

After the success of its 44-unit CollegeVista project at College of San Mateo, the district plans to add 60 additional apartments on the Cañada College campus in Redwood City. Those apartments could be available by mid-2009 — good news for the 83 families on the waiting list for CollegeVista, according to Barbara Christensen, director of government and community relations for the district.

The college district employs roughly 1,500 faculty and staff at its three campuses and district office.

“If we’re able to build 60 units at Cañada, that’s going to take care of most of our demand, because we’ve got 83 people on the wait list,” Christensen said.

In doing so, the district becomes one of the first in California to build its own employee housing, according to Chris Mohr, director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.

New professors make $50,000 to $55,000 per year — more if they take on extra work. However, housing data shows that it takes a minimum salary of $63,880 per year to be able to afford to live in San Mateo County, Christensen said.

“People who are starting their careers and aren’t making as much money can’t get over the hurdle” to homeownership, Mohr said.

The college district offers its employees help with down payments, but found that even with that assistance, employees couldn’t save money while living in market-rate housing, Mohr said.

By using 2 acres of its own land at College of San Mateo, the district was able to build 44 units for $8.1 million — whereas purchasing the land elsewhere would have cost $6 million on its own, Christensen said. Rents in that building range from $788 for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,425 for three bedrooms.

A similar approach at Cañada should yield rents 50 percent below market rate, although rents haven’t been set, Christensen said.

In the meantime, the project must clear a number of hurdles, including environmental analysis and annexation of the parcel — part of which is in Woodside — to Redwood City, according to Redwood City Planning Manager Jill Ekas.

Then, plans must be approved by the college board, Woodside, Redwood City and the county’s Local Agency Formation Committee. Formal designs have not yet been submitted, Ekas said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com


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