Legislation to Address the Student Housing Crisis Passes Senate Environmental Quality Committee

Photo Courtesy UCLA Newsroom; Jesse Herring/UCLA

By Vanguard Staff

Sacramento, CA – Legislation to address the student and faculty housing shortage, Senate Bill 886, passed the Senate Environmental Quality Committee by a vote of 6-0. It will now head to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 886, authored by Senator Scott Wiener, the Student and Faculty Housing Act, streamlines and accelerates student housing production across the state and increases the supply of housing so more students and faculty can live on campus. SB 886 will give more students the opportunity to attend California’s public colleges and universities.

The legislation exempts on-campus student and faculty housing projects built by the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and California Community College (CCC) systems from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which has been used to stop or delay new housing from being built – including badly-needed housing for students on campuses across the state.

SB 886 effectively provides UC, CSU, and CCC the same ability to create new student and faculty housing that many cities already have through state housing streamlining laws.

“An astounding number of California’s college students are facing housing insecurity. Far too many are sleeping on friends’ couches, in their cars, in temporary motels, or in shelters,” said Senator Wiener.

The Senator noted, “College, for many low-income and working class Californians, is a path to the middle class. Yet, we make it difficult or impossible for students to live near or on campus and force them into untenably expensive housing situations that make it difficult to attend or stay in school. We have a responsibility to the next generation to make student housing more accessible and affordable. In addition, many of our college faculty struggle with housing, and we need to make it easier and faster for our public universities to create on-campus faculty housing as well.”

According to a release, “California’s lack of student housing drives college students into homelessness.”

According to a 2021 report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, “5% of UC students are currently experiencing homelessness.”  However, “That number rises to 16% when those living in hotels or transitional housing are included. For CSU students, the rate of homelessness during the academic year is 10%.”

Senator Wiener’s office said, “With over 280,000 students currently enrolled in UCs and 485,000 in CSUs, this means that over 60,000 students at four-year universities in California are currently facing homelessness, with even more facing housing insecurity. “

The release continued, “The statistics are even more jarring for our community college system. In a 2019 survey of 40,000 California community college students, 19% of students had been homeless in the last year while 60% had experienced housing insecurity.”

With 1.8 million Californians currently attending community college, “this means over 1 million community college students in this state alone are unable to find an adequate and affordable place to live while pursuing a degree.”

Wiener’s office said, “The lack of student housing also impacts California’s urgent need to expand access to public higher education for California youth.”

The UC system, for example, “received record amounts of applications in 2021 and has expanded enrollment as demand has increased. The 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 housing waitlists continue to grow.”

In the fall of 2021 alone, 13 CSU campuses reported having 8,700 students on waitlists for housing, while 8 UC campuses reported 7,500 students – a combined total of over 16,000 students unable to gain access to housing through the university they attend.

Although half of CSUs and all UCs have added housing capacity since 2015, “the rate at which these projects are ready to be inhabited has not matched the rise in admissions. One issue facing potential housing projects for students and faculty is the prevalence of CEQA appeals and lawsuits.”

CEQA requires state and local agencies to evaluate and disclose the significant environmental impacts of projects they approve and to avoid or mitigate those impacts if possible. “CEQA is a critically important law that protects the environment from projects such as refineries that pollute natural resources and jeopardize health, especially for historically marginalized and underserved populations.”

However, Wiener’s office said, “the CEQA process is subject to appeals and lawsuits that can increase project costs and create delays for reasons completely unrelated to the environment. It’s not unusual for it to take three to four years and millions of dollars to resolve a single lawsuit, while pre-lawsuit appeals regularly take six months to resolve. The delays and excessive costs associated with CEQA can slow down projects, or even prevent proposals from moving forward.”

Wiener’s office continued, “Using CEQA to delay or halt student and faculty housing projects has greatly impacted California campuses, increasing the cost of living in and around campuses, pushing thousands of students and staff into housing insecurity or homelessness.”

Moreover, “increasing on-campus student and faculty housing is inherently environmentally beneficial, as students and faculty can walk to work or school, rather than driving long distances due to the extreme cost of housing.”

To qualify for this exemption, projects must be on a UC, CSU, or CCC campus, utilize prevailing wages and a skilled and trained workforce, not utilize land demarcated as farmland, wetlands, or a very high fire hazard severity zone, and not result in the demolition of rent-controlled or affordable housing. Additionally, projects must be consistent with Long Range Development Plans or Master Plans that have been certified no more than 15 years before the project, have a transportation demand management program, and mitigate all construction impacts. Projects cannot result in any net additional emissions of greenhouse gasses.

To qualify for this exemption, each building within a development be LEED Platinum certified, have no more than 33% of the square footage be used for dining, academic or student support spaces. Projects must be located within half a mile of a major transit stop, half a mile of the campus boundary, or have 15% lower per capita VMT. Lead agencies must hold at least one hearing – with public notice – for a project.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for