Campus considers housing options for additional students entering next year

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With the university preparing to take in 6,500 additional students next year and UC Berkeley itself expecting 750 new students, the campus is looking at options to house its share.

As announced by UC President Janet Napolitano on Wednesday, UC Berkeley will participate in an initiative, which plans to add 14,000 beds to UC campuses by 2020. Chief Financial Officer Nathan Brostrom and others from various UC offices will visit each campus and work to speed up and launch new housing projects, as well as identify funding options for the expansions.

Some campuses, such as UC Merced, have easier access to land and less trouble accommodating more students, according to UC Student Association President Kevin Sabo. But UC Berkeley, situated in the already expensive Bay Area, faces challenges in developing new housing.

The campus prioritizes housing for freshmen, but other UC campuses generally guarantee more housing. UCLA, for example, guarantees three years of on-campus housing for incoming freshmen. Typically, more than 90 percent of freshmen elect to live on campus at UC Berkeley, but space in the residence halls is limited, and modifications have already stretched their capacities. Last year, the campus modified some rooms to quadruple occupancy, at a semesterly rate of $6000.

“Our residential halls have a greater density than ever, yet Residential & Student Service Programs remains committed to finding housing solutions for our ever-growing student body,” said Adam Ratliff, campus communications manager for student affairs, in an email.

On-campus housing and dining options are self-sustaining, meaning that because no state, campus or student fee money is used to help fund them, housing prices are reflective of the expensive real estate market of the Bay Area, Ratliff said in an email.

Stiles Hall — a new residence hall proposal scheduled to begin construction in winter 2016 is the only proposed on-campus housing development at the moment. The campus will also be looking into “creative housing solutions,” according to an email from campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

One of these programs is Global Edge, where newly admitted freshmen spend the summer in Berkeley before embarking to London, Madrid or Rome for their fall semester. The program is projected to have 150 participants in the coming school year.

Christopher Palmer, an assistant professor of real estate at the Haas School of Business, noted the challenges of appropriating university land for housing, with so many competing interests at the school for new buildings, such as research labs.

“Something has to give if you want to build new housing units elsewhere,” Palmer said. “If you found some plot not being used and the university opens it, people will say that our students are already finding housing, don’t we need x-y-z more?”

Palmer said the university could efficiently develop new housing through private-public partnerships. Stephen Barton, former deputy director of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program, said the campus has been looking into partnerships in recent years.

Bowles Hall, which will reopen as a residential college in fall 2016, is one example of such a partnership. The foundation that will run the residence won’t pay rent to UC Berkeley, but its lease of the building will relieve the campus of 45 years of maintenance and operation costs.

With so many challenges facing the expansion of housing by the campus, Barton identified Berkeley Student Cooperative as an organization with the capacity to create more affordable housing.

Though Sabo said he was pleased that the UC Office of the President is acknowledging the housing problem, he said the UC community and local governments would need to “bring (their) heads together” to work on the issue further.

“There’s a lot of time between now and 2020,” Sabo said. “What about this 10,000 student enrollment that’s starting this fall? Where are those students going to live?”

Philip Cerles covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected].