SACRAMENTO — Sen. Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) legislation to address housing shortages for students and faculty, Senate Bill 886, passed the Assembly with a vote of 46 against 2. He now heads to the Senate for final approval before going to the Governor’s office.
SB 886, the Student and Faculty Housing Act, CEQA streamlines and expedites the production of student and faculty housing statewide and increases the supply of housing so that more students and faculty can live on the campus. SB 886 gives more students the opportunity to attend public colleges and universities in California. The legislation exempts student and faculty housing projects built on land owned by UC, CSU, or community colleges from CEQA. The CEQA has sometimes been used to stop or delay the construction of new student accommodation.
SB 886 effectively provides UC, CSU, and CCC with the same ability to create new student and faculty housing that many cities already have through state housing rationalization laws.
“Students shouldn’t live without their car because housing shortages make housing scarce and unaffordable,” said Senator Vienna. “Stable housing is essential for students to obtain a quality education. We cannot continue to punish the next generation by refusing to build more homes. SB 886 will allow public schools to support students by creating more on-campus housing.
The lack of student housing in California is pushing students into homelessness. According to a 2021 report from the Office of the Legislative Analyst, 5% of UC students are currently homeless. This number increases to 16% when people living in hotels or transitional housing are included. For CSU students, the homelessness rate during the academic year is 10%. With more than 280,000 students currently enrolled in UC and 485,000 in CSU, this means more than 60,000 students at four-year universities in California are currently facing homelessness, and even more facing housing insecurity. .
The statistics are even more shocking for our community college system. In a 2019 survey of 40,000 California community college students, 19% of students had been homeless in the past year while 60% had experienced housing insecurity. With 1.8 million Californians currently attending community college, this means that more than one million community college students in this state are unable to find adequate and affordable housing while pursuing an education.
The lack of student housing also impacts California’s urgent need to expand access to public higher education for young Californians. The UC system, for example, received a record number of applications in 2021 and expanded enrollment as demand increased. Growth in admissions, combined with decades of limited housing development, has left campuses without the necessary shelter for their students or staff. Schools have revoked housing guarantees and waiting lists for housing continue to grow. In fall 2021 alone, 13 CSU campuses reported having 8,700 students on waiting lists for housing, while 8 UC campuses reported 7,500 students – a combined total of more than 16,000 students unable to access accommodation through the university they attend.
Although half of CSUs and all CUs have added housing capacity since 2015, the rate at which these projects are ready for occupancy has not matched the rise in admissions. One of the problems facing potential housing projects for students and faculty is the prevalence of CEQA appeals and lawsuits.
CEQA requires state and local agencies to assess and disclose the significant environmental impacts of projects they approve and to avoid or mitigate those impacts where possible. CEQA is a critically important law that protects the environment from projects such as refineries that pollute natural resources and endanger health, especially for historically marginalized and underserved populations.
However, the CEQA process is subject to appeals and lawsuits which can increase project costs and create delays for reasons entirely unrelated to the environment. It is not uncommon for three to four years and millions of dollars to resolve a single lawsuit, while pre-lawsuit appeals typically take six months to resolve. Delays and excessive costs associated with CEQA can slow projects down or even prevent proposals from moving forward.
The use of CEQA to delay or halt student and faculty housing projects has had a dramatic impact on California campuses, increasing the cost of living on and around campuses, pushing thousands of students and members of the staff experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness. Additionally, increasing student and faculty housing on campus is inherently beneficial to the environment, as students and faculty can walk to work or school, rather than long walks. driving distances due to the extreme cost of housing.
To qualify for this exemption, projects must be on a UC, CSU or CCC campus, use prevailing wages and a skilled and trained workforce, not use demarcated lands such as farmland, wetlands or a very high fire risk area, and not result in the demolition of rent-controlled or affordable housing. In addition, projects must conform to long-term development plans or master plans that were certified on or after January 1, 2018, have a transportation demand management program, and mitigate all construction impacts. Projects cannot result in net additional greenhouse gas emissions.
To qualify for this exemption, each building in a development must be LEED Platinum certified, use no more than 33% of the square footage for dining, academic or student support spaces, and have a maximum of 2 000 units or 4,000 beds. Projects must be located within half a mile of a major transit stop, half a mile from the campus boundary, or have a 15% lower per capita VMT. Lead agencies must hold at least one hearing – with public notice – for a project.
SB 866 is bipartisan legislation sponsored by California YIMBY, the State Building & Construction Trades Council, the California Faculty Association, the UC Student Association, the Student Housing Coalition, and the California Community Colleges Student Senate. Additionally, the CSU Student Association supports SB 886. Assembly members Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco), Jose Medina (D-Riverside), Rob Rivas (D-Salinas), Devin Mathis (R-Porterville) and Senators Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) and Bob Archuleta (D-Pico Rivera) are co-sponsors of this legislation.