By: Erika Paz and Tiffany Mankarios
After losing two potential affordable housing projects in the Downtown Long Beach area, Long Beach State officials continue their search for student housing. While the search has slowed due to the coronavirus pandemic, other obstacles like funding, seismic regulations and disgruntled neighbors haven’t made it any easier.
“I remain committed to finding affordable housing for our students,” President Jane Close Conoley said. “That’s one reason why we’re building this new complex that will be opened in the fall for about 476 beds.”
Located on Atherton Street, the Parkside North Dormitory is the most recent addition to on-campus housing. Aside from this project, the university continues to search for other housing options to accommodate students, faculty and staff.
A new on-campus dormitory might be the right option for some students, but with a price tag of up to $10,590 per academic year, many are unable to afford it. Living off campus is the next alternative, but establishing this kind of housing presents additional challenges for the university.
According to Scott Apel, CSULB’s chief financial officer, the university will only invest in “low-risk” housing development projects that are considered airtight.
“We don’t spend any money on speculative real-estate development because we use tax money and student fees to pay most of our bills,” Apel said. “We spend all of that money on educating our students… Our number one priority is educating people. We have to be very careful about the money we use to do that.”
Relying on the CSULB Research Foundation
In an effort to protect the university from speculative projects that have the potential for investment loss, Apel relies only on funds that come from the CSULB Research Foundation.
The foundation is completely separate from the university and is listed as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, meaning it does not receive any revenue from the state or from tuition fees. Instead, funding comes from donors and private agencies.
Revenue that comes from the foundation allows the university to invest in potential housing alternatives without spending any money that comes from student fees or taxes, but there are still other considerations that prevent some of those investments.
“Commercial builders build for a life of 20 years,” Conoley said. “We have to build for a life of 60 years.”
Housing arrangements provided by the university, either on or off campus, must meet these seismic standards. Often times, options that may seem financially feasible don’t pan out because they do not meet the required seismic standards.
Conoley is considering alternative housing options looking ahead, and their success will depend not only on the ability to meet these building standards, but also on finding options that the foundation can afford.
Apel and his colleagues are working on a fundraising strategy known as “planned giving,” which relies on donors contributing real estate for the university to use. Once the donor passes away, those properties would be listed as gifts to the university in the donor’s will.
“We had a couple of opportunities, but the buildings weren’t in good enough shape for us to take possession of, and then the deals kind of fell apart,” Apel said.
Conoley also said the university is looking at city-owned abandoned buildings.
“We’re on the list with the city to, say, if one of those [buildings] comes up, let us have it. We will develop it the way we want for our faculty, staff and students,” she said.
In recent months, Conoley also considered purchasing homes in the surrounding neighborhoods and renting them to faculty and staff at affordable rates, though she feels this may upset unwelcoming neighbors.
“Neighbors don’t like to live near students. They will raise a lot of political noise,” Conoley said, referring to local residents’ efforts to prevent developers from converting homes into student housing.
One such project aims to renovate a single-family home to accommodate 11 bedrooms. Residents in the neighborhood have reached out to the city to prevent the development, but they have not been successful.
“I was really glad that the city has not been willing to intervene and stop [the project],” Conoley said. “Because that would be great, I think it’d be safe. It’s a safe neighborhood, and it’s convenient to campus.”
Although Apel said that investing in homes won’t be happening anytime soon, he maintained that it is something the university may eventually consider.
“That’s always going to be a possibility, but we have to get through the pandemic and make sure the Research Foundation makes money,” he said. “But I think in the future, that will be something we would look at.”