State Sen. Nancy Skinner introduces bill to boost affordable student housing

Nancy Skinner's Office/Courtesy

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State Sen. Nancy Skinner introduced legislation March 21 to increase housing for California’s college and university students.

The bill, SB 1227, attempts to encourage the construction of affordable units in student housing by increasing the current state density bonus incentive — which allows developers to increase the total number of housing units in their projects to help cover the cost of including affordable units — from 35 percent more housing units to 100 percent student-serving housing projects.

“Current law makes it harder to build housing exclusively for students and nearly impossible to include affordable units in that housing,” Skinner said in a press release. “SB 1227 helps level the playing field so that more student housing and more affordable student housing actually gets built.”

Under Skinner’s bill, students could become eligible for low-income housing through the submission of financial aid documents.

According to Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the bill also allows developers to build car-free student housing, which would reduce the cost of student housing by not requiring private developers to build “a massive amount of parking for places where very few people have cars.”

While allowing car-free housing could be a small incentive to student housing developers, Worthington said he does not think that is the most important part of the bill.

The bill’s most significant impact, according to Worthington, is that it would allow low-income students to live in low-income units.

SB 1227 is an important step forward for students in a “desperate time,” according to Igor Tregub, Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board chair.

“We have a tremendous housing affordability crisis in Berkeley,” Tregub said. “That crisis extends to the student community, and probably nowhere is the student implications of the crisis more acutely felt than in Berkeley.”

He added that the increased percentage of affordability — compared to what the current density bonus scheme calls for — in combination with the fact that the senator’s bill calls for housing to be built within one mile of the campus and near transit routes, “will be a win for Berkeley and particularly for Berkeley students.”

Both Worthington and Tregub said they think the bill could provide the student housing that UC Berkeley struggles to supply.

“The university doesn’t have enough money to build the student housing we need, so I think anything that helps private developers build more student housing … helps the community and the students, and it helps the university,” Worthington said.

The added number of low-income student housing units would amplify — not compete with — university proposals to add housing, Worthington added.

“The current reality is that the public education system is suffering from a continued trend of disinvestment … from the state, and that has continued for many decades,” Tregub said. “(SB 1227) is probably the best possible solution given today’s realities.”

Contact Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.