Bill aimed at increasing affordable housing for students passes in California State Legislature

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Aslesha Kumar/File

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SB 1227 — which was issued by California state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and which aims to increase affordable student housing — was passed by the California State Legislature on Tuesday, according to a press release.

According to SB 1227, developers building housing that is entirely for students will be able to qualify for a “density bonus,” provided that 20 percent of the units are used for lower-income students.

“SB 1227 will encourage the construction of more housing and more affordable housing for college students up and down the state,” Skinner said in a press release. “Students deserve to focus on learning instead of worrying about whether they have a place to live.”

The existing Density Bonus Law says housing developers may build up to 35 percent more units than local zoning laws permit, if the development project includes a sufficient amount of affordable units. SB 1227 will allow 100 percent student housing to also benefit from the density bonus.

“It’s a way of mandating that developers need to build affordable housing in theory,” said ASUC Housing Commission chair Helen Veazey. “So the problem with that in Berkeley is that a lot of the affordable units are not accessible to students.”

According to Matthew Lewis, a city Housing Advisory commissioner and the chair of the Student Housing Subcommittee, the more low-income units a developer includes in the project, the more density bonuses or other incentives the developer gets. Lewis said he believes this bill should be adjusted to make sure low-income housing is available to as many students as possible.

“I think this bill alone won’t completely solve it. We still need more affordable housing,” Lewis said. “The bill in Senate is an important step, but we also need public money to build nonprofit housing like student co-ops.”

Lewis said he thinks one issue that may arise with this bill is that the student cooperatives are not allowed to do partnerships with developers.

One of the questions Veazey asks is how these developments and universities are going to determine who has access to the affordable units, given the high demands for affordable student housing.

UCOP spokesperson Danielle Smith, however, said in an email that “communities throughout California face the challenge of ensuring sufficient affordable housing for residents, including college students, and we are appreciative of the legislature’s continued efforts to seek creative solutions for this ongoing issue.”

SB 1227 is currently headed to Gov. Jerry Brown for signature. If the bill is signed, Lewis predicts that there will be many effects, not limited to increased student housing, increased profits for developers and increased working partnerships between developers and California campuses for more student housing.

“With these changes, SB 1227 creates a path to constructing new housing for students enrolled in higher education facilities throughout California and ensures that affordable student units can be included in that housing,” the press release said.

Mariam Zagub is the lead race and diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MZagub.