Our universities are leading the way toward providing private sector solutions to the region’s chronic housing deficit.
It will take courage, but civic leaders and elected officials should take note.
The latest solution comes from CSU Channel Islands, where a donation of land for housing has enabled private developers to build quickly and nearly complete about 600 residences on the campus near Camarillo.
By completing a new phase of student housing, CI has gained a critical mass of residents, a move that will spark more on-campus activities, particularly during weekends. By letting demand drive services and activities, CI is actually letting market forces work to steer its future.
With innovations like the land-for-housing transaction, CI is moving out of its startup phase and entering a period where it can grow into the middle ranks of CSU system campuses — all without losing the personal touch that has made it a favorite for area high school graduates and community college transfers.
As we’ve reported, President Jeffrey Armstrong at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has come forward with the idea of public-private partnerships to build staff and faculty and even some community housing at designated locations on the campus.
Armstrong is determined that Cal Poly will do its part not to inflate artificially the cost of workforce housing in SLO — a notable goal.
And UC Santa Barbara has tapped the largesse of Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, a serial donor and grandfather of a UCSB alum. In March, Munger, 92, announced a $200 million donation that will use underutilized space on campus to house hundreds of students.
His bold vision is based on a similar project he funded at the University of Michigan. It would provide a way for the university to expand and take some of the pressure off of Isla Vista as a neighborhood that’s chock full of short-term residence options for students and a public safety nightmare. Munger already provided $65 million for a scholars residence associated with the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics.
Our universities are important players in the Central Coast and they will become more important as community advocates continue to block efforts to provide more housing solutions that are market-based. On July 29, some 60 organizations objected to Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to streamline the review process for market rate housing projects. Instead, they want heavily subsidized, affordable units.
In the end, the state will have to do both — provide affordable solutions for people displaced by gentrification and reduce the red tape and permitting costs for conventional housing. For now, it’s the universities that are leading the way.
Kudos for mechatronics program
While we’re on the subject of area universities, we’ll note with some pride the launch of an engineering degree program in mechatronics at CSU Channel Islands. Mechatronics is the use of software to control machines and we were impressed by the student displays at the June 20 launch. By focusing on science, math and computers, CI has built an impressive faculty that was fully ready for the opportunity to launch a specialized engineering program.
Particular credit goes to Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, who pushed for legislation to fund the program and, of course, to outgoing President Richard Rush.