San Diego County colleges do not offer student accommodation. That may change

With no place to sleep or bathe, Jonathan Renteria, a student at Southwestern College, decided last year that it would be better to change his main thing.

“I came here for the school’s medical laboratory technician program, but I could not go that route,” he said. “It’s not about performance; I am a 4.0 student. I can not do my clinical work from my car.

Renteria, now a major in design technology, lost two of his preparatory jobs at the start of Pandemic. He used stimulus dollars and other means to survive, but by the 2021 fall semester he was homeless.

He was home from school during the day from August to September, and at night his Toyota Camry was a refuge for him and his dog dad. He used his cell phone to complete his homework.

“I have seen a lot of homeless students, even if they are not,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. No need to explain; It was like code.

Renteria was lucky. He now lives in an El Cajon home where he works as a caretaker. His experience is not unique.

The Southwestern Community College District in South Bay and the other four districts in San Diego County are now looking at ways to solve a problem affecting students like Renteria, one of California’s most important problems: affordable housing.

Jonathan Renteria, a student at Southwestern College, studied design technology and is a member of an Associated Student Organization.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Of the 116 community colleges in the state, only 11 offer accommodation to students, according to the state chancellor’s office. Nothing in San Diego County. But that may change.

Last month, the California Department of Finance awarded five community college districts – Grossmond ($ 310,000), Miracosta ($ 150,000), Palomer ($ 820,000), San Diego ($ 344,000) and Southwestern ($ 618,000 million). . Possibility of student housing.

The Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program originated from Senate Bill 169, which was enacted into law in September and provides a one-time grant of $ 500 million for the planning and construction of student housing for colleges and universities. As part of the program, the state finance ministry has recommended a number of construction projects to the legislature for consideration by the end of this year. The recommendations include some from the University of California, San Diego and a joint effort between San Diego State University and Imperial Valley College.

Colleges: Why we need housing

Southwestern College – with four campuses in Chula Vista, Otta Mesa, National City and San Jacidro – has approximately 28,000 students. In a February 2020 survey conducted by the Community College Equity Assessment Laboratory, more than half of the 500 local students said their home was unstable. About 100 people wandered between the homes of friends and family, while others slept in cars and closets on or off campus.

SDCCD Chancellor Carlos Cortes said one in five students in the four-college San Diego Community College District is homeless.

Nationwide, 3 in 5 college students will face difficulties in getting food and shelter by 2020, according to a March report by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.

Although federal stimulus funding has been set aside for higher education, “community colleges receive far less support than four-year colleges, and even if students claiming to be dependent receive income and file tax returns, they do not qualify for CARES stimulus tests,” the report said.

“All higher education (pandemic) has been affected, but none of them are as serious as ours (community colleges) because we serve the most vulnerable students,” Cortes said.

Abril, a Southwestern student and unmarried mother, declined to share her last name, having been nearly homeless last year. The college connected her to a non-profit institution that helped her and her son find an apartment, but she worries that other students might not be so lucky.

“I think community colleges are the right direction for students seeking housing because there are so many places that need help, and the only place they know is school,” she said. “For many low-income people, community colleges are the only option.”

What they want to build

For example, San Diego College plans to use the state grant to renovate the former Child Development Center, located in downtown, into a multi-story building that offers rooms for more than 600 students. According to district estimates, the project will cost about $ 130 million.

Other projects still in need of funding include efforts to bring 350 beds for young people raised to the Mountain View Educational Cultural Complex and to build housing for low-income employees.

Miracosta College officials said the funding would be used to find a suitable site based on students’ needs and available commercial space, and they estimate the task will take four to six months.

“Housing insecurity is affecting many of our students, and with the rising cost of living in San Diego County, housing is becoming more and more challenging for current and future college students,” officials said in an email statement Thursday. “The funds received by Miracosta College will be helpful as we begin to identify our community partners and begin feasibility studies – in municipalities, in the private and non-profit sectors.”

Like other colleges, Palomer provides students with food, childcare services, and on-campus baths. They said their grant would help them explore the possibility of offering more than that.

“We are well aware that affordable housing for our students is a challenge and will affect their success as they pursue their educational path. This planning grant will give Palomer College the opportunity to inspect low-income affordable, safe and accessible student homes and begin the planning phase, ”said President Star Rivera-Lacey.

Southwestern College wants to build housing on or near its four campuses according to its 2018 Facilities Master Plan.

“There are many different ways you can arrange the housing we are considering,” said Kelly Hall, vice president of business and finance at Southwestern. “It’s not just a traditional, two-bunk bedroom door, because we have unmarried parents and families, as well as childcare and food services.”

On the National City Campus on the National City Boulevard, the college proposes to secure and renovate two nearby parcels – one owned by the city and the other formerly a bar. The city has expressed support for collaborating with Southwest on a housing project in the early design phase. The college estimates that this will cost about $ 96 million.

Chula Vista’s ideas include new construction on a college – owned property opposite the campus on Otte Lakes Road, valued at $ 43 million. In San Yisidro, there is a proposal to convert a parking lot near the campus into a residence and parking lot for $ 97 million, and in Otta Mesa, the college is considering building a house on the same estimated cost on a property they own on Airway Road.

Its $ 618,000 state grant will help Southwest determine how many student beds and roundabout services are possible, Hall said.

Challenges ahead

Colleges do not have enough money to build student homes on their own, and grant programs are competitive, with dozens of billions of dollars in projects being proposed.

“The point is that we are not involved in housing; We are in the business of teaching and learning. We have not historically built residential colleges, ”Cortez said.

SDCCD’s four colleges have real estate to build on hundreds of units, which could help the county reach its state-targeted target of 108,000 new homes by 2029, but “they have no dollars to do that,” Cortes added.

Funding is going to partner with the government, developers and housing organizations to cover the cost and bring in more homes, college officials said.

As local and state government agencies prepare their annual budgets, “we want to make it clear that we need to set aside special funds to work with community colleges,” Cortes said.

Hall said the long-term viability of the projects also needs to be considered.

“These projects need to be able to sustain themselves. If we offer a rent that is well below the market rate, we need to figure out how to do that, ”she said, adding that some ideas include partnerships with public companies that can take advantage of tax benefits or replace units at market rates.

The colleges said they want to make housing available to students at least sometime in the next five years.

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