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San Diego
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Medical System Wants To Be Housing Provider

Long a provider of housing for university students, UC San Diego is now pushing for dwellings for employees of its medical system.

UC San Diego Health wants to shield medical staffers from rent surges and increase walkability through large workforce housing developments for its La Jolla and Hillcrest hospital campuses.

The strategy — similar to a few efforts nationally — aims to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and long commutes and relatedly boost employee retention. It would also generate a new revenue stream.

Plans for Major Redevelopment

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In Hillcrest, UC San Diego intends to redevelop more than half of its 62-acre medical campus, including building a new hospital, as well as up to 950 units for medical students, faculty and other staff.

Near its La Jolla medical center, plans call for up to 1,000 units on two sites for employees of both the hospital and the university.

“Faculty, staff and graduate students will all need to pay for housing somewhere within the San Diego region. Rather than paying rent to live long distances from their work, the university will provide convenient quality rental housing,” UC San Diego said in a statement, declining to grant an interview request.

Rents to Fund Infrastructure

At Hillcrest, revenue from housing would fund millions of dollars in infrastructure costs — namely, a new cogeneration plant, street improvements and parking. Those needs stem from the new hospital and outpatient pavilion.

State funding for capital infrastructure keeps declining, sparking a search for new funding models.

“While the health system projects that the hospital can be financially self-supporting, its revenues cannot support infrastructure costs,” the university statement said.

Employees there could easily stroll to work, a first for UC San Diego medical housing.

The health system owns and operates the 350-unit La Jolla Del Sol development, 1.6 miles away from Jacobs Medical Center in La Jolla.

The complex’s long waitlist points to a need for medical housing in the area. Thus, the health system is looking to construct 900 to 1,000 units by Jacobs Medical Center, which would also be for university students.

Plans call for the La Jolla and Hillcrest developments to break ground in a few years. The health system indicated in a statement that upon move-in rents would be market rate, but with caps on hikes.

Controlling the Rent

“The University will be able to control the rents in its Hillcrest housing to ensure its faculty, staff and graduate/professional students do not experience future rent spikes, which could lead to financial hardship and additional stress.”

Other hospitals have embraced workforce housing as a way to contend with soaring prices, including Seattle Children’s Hospital and Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

“There is a trend to offer housing. I think that’s predominantly to do with the high costs, and two to attract talent,” said James Bush, a principal with Deloitte Consulting’s health care and life sciences consulting practice.

Bush said models vary, as some health systems even sell homes to medical staff at preferred financing rates.

The UC Board of Regents in 2019 will consider the Hillcrest housing piece as part of the larger redevelopment plan.

The revamp is the result of a California law that requires earthquake building code compliance from hospitals by 2030. Faced with building anew or retrofitting, the latter was deemed too expensive and infeasible.

Another goal was to consolidate outpatient, research and support services, along with improving circulation within and into the campus, located at 200 W. Arbor Drive. It offers primary care and specialized services, such as a regional burn center and a comprehensive stroke center.

It’s no secret that housing projects often invite controversy in San Diego. But a presentation outlining housing plans for the Hillcrest site was warmly received last year by Uptown Planners, which advises the San Diego City Council on land use in Hillcrest and other surrounding neighborhoods.

However, the presentation to the group didn’t include specifics, like up to 950 units, a figure that was in environmental scoping documents this spring.

Given traffic bottlenecks in the area, “actually having workforce housing within walkable distance was really well received,” said Leo Wilson, chair of Uptown Planners. “Not relying on cars so much — this is strongly encouraged and it’s something we’ll see a lot more of in the future.”

Once the redevelopment proposal is further along, Uptown Planners will decide on whether to issue a recommendation.

“Many appreciate the inclusion of housing onsite and the university’s contribution to reducing the region’s housing crisis, reducing traffic congestion and improving the quality of amenities in the neighborhood,” stated UC San Diego.

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