Building a place for students to live is becoming a critical mission for the San Diego Community College, according to Chancellor Carlos Cortez.
Toward that end, the district has received nearly $500,000 to begin planning for student housing construction.
The biggest chunk of the grant money was $344,000 the district received from the California Department of Finance to plan for student housing at City College – one of the district’s three campuses.
The other two campuses are Mesa College in Clairemont and Miramar College in Mira Mesa.
The district also received $100,000 from the San Diego chapter of Funders Together to End Homelessness, a nonprofit agency, with the money to be used to plan for where and how to provide housing at all three campuses, said Amy Denhart, the organization’s director.
Cortez said the college district also has received a $30,000 grant from the Lucky Duck Foundation.
“We’re not looking to build dormitory housing. We’re looking to build stable, apartment housing.” Cortez said.
Cortez estimated that about 18% of the more than 100,000 students enrolled at the district’s three schools are homeless, and the district estimated that 59%.of students had housing instability.
“This is a major concern,” Cortez said. “This is something that is near and dear to my heart.”
At City College, the district is looking at redeveloping the site of a former child development center at the corner of 16th and B streets into student housing.
Tentative plans call for construction of a 186,000-square-foot student housing project on the site.
“We’re taking advantage of opportunities that are available to us immediately,” Cortez said. “We’re also considering the conversion of SROs (single room occupancy hotels) across San Diego as well to see if we can do our part to address the housing crisis.”
Joel Peterson, vice chancellor of facilities management, said the City College project could be a template for similar projects at Mesa College and Miramar College.
To pay for the projects, Peterson said the district is looking at “everything from going after state and federal funds for affordable housing to bond measures to partnering with NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and government agencies or partnering with nongovernmental private enterprise developers that might specialize in affordable housing.”
The $100,000 from Funders Together is to take a broad look at where student housing could be built on or near the three district campuses, Denhart said.
“It most likely will be on community college land that they already own but other government land isn’t off the table,” Denhart said. “It’s incredibly important that these students have a home and we end homelessness for 18,000 students or as many as they have.”
Funders Together is a philanthropic organization of private individuals, foundations and other organizations, Denhart said.
So far this year, Funders Together has awarded more than $400,000 in grants including the grant to the college district, Denhart said. She said it has an annual budget of $1 million.
“We prioritize housing as the primary way to end homelessness. Chancellor Cortez is one of the first chancellors that we know of that has taken on this mission to house students,” Denhart said. “We’re very supportive of how visionary he is. A lot of community colleges do not provide housing.”
Historically, San Diego’s community colleges have been commuter schools that did not provide housing.
“There are other colleges that got into the housing game in the last several years. I don’t know if anybody has as ambitious a plan as we have,” Cortez said. “Our obligation is to mitigate any obstacle that keeps our students from thriving.”
With housing in San Diego so expensive and in such short supply, Cortez said it makes sense for the college district to help fill the gap.
“There are very few entities in the city of San Diego that have the land that we own and the capacity to build and the will to build as much housing as we can build,” Cortez said.
The catch is that it typically takes four to five years for the district to build something, Cortez said.
“If someone were to come tomorrow with $100 million, I could probably have something built in three years,” he added. “The good news is I’m getting a lot of attention with the noise I’m making about our district’s commitment around homelessness.”
San Diego Community College District
Headquarters: Mission Valley
Chancellor: Carlos Cortez
Notable: The district includes three colleges – City College in downtown San Diego, Mesa College in Clairemont, and Miramar College in Miramar Mesa.