San Jose State University is missing out on a sizable pot of state money for affordable housing.
While 26 California universities received portions of a $1.4 billion affordable housing grant to build needed below-market housing for students, San Jose State University—with a homeless student population of 11.2% according to a spring 2021 SJSU basic needs survey—did not.
SJSU spokesperson Kenneth Mashinchi said the university didn’t qualify for the state grant.
“San Jose State University submitted a student housing project for consideration, but the size of the project and projected building start date did not meet the criteria,” he told San José Spotlight. “The university continues to explore ways to secure funding for student housing opportunities and projects.”
The grants provided funds for California Community Colleges, University of California and the California State University schools to construct or acquire commercial properties for affordable, low-cost housing for college students. The interest-free grants enable schools to reduce rents.
The state initially set aside $500 million for nine colleges, but 42 responded, asking for $2.8 billion, according to EdSource. Of these, the state said 17 met the criteria, which included specific timelines for projects to commence construction. The only Bay Area college to make the cut is San Francisco State University.
One in 10 students at CSU campuses experience homelessness, according to a November 2021 hearing of the State Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance. That’s 1 in 20 at UC schools and 1 in 5 at state community colleges.
SJSU homeless students sleep in their cars, on couches and campus benches or in the library. Scott Myers-Lipton, a sociology professor at San Jose State University, said students are in desperate need of affordable housing. He said campus housing costs $5,100 for four months and many students can’t afford it.
Anthony Majano, president of the Student Homeless Alliance, which advocates for housing insecure peers, said there are still 4,000 SJSU students facing housing and food insecurity.
“San Jose has some of the highest costs of living in the country and San Jose State University has a high rate of working class and Black, Indigenous and people of color students who would benefit from the additional attention toward more affordable housing,” he told San José Spotlight.
For two years, student advocates demanded the university provide 12 emergency beds for homeless students, as well as 10 parking spaces for safe overnight parking and $2,500 in emergency grants for housing. They urged the university not to pressure students in need of a bed into taking out financial aid to get one. The Student Homeless Alliance negotiated with the university to establish a student advisory board to address a pilot emergency bed program and related issues. This led to a student victory in November 2021, when the university agreed to extend the 12-bed program from one semester to indefinitely, and students would not be required to take out any loans for a month.
The university has other plans in the pipeline for housing students and faculty that include the repurposing of a state-owned building.
In January 2020, State Assemblymember Ash Kalra and then-state Sen. Jim Beall announced the transfer of the Alquist building to the university for below-market rate housing. They secured $250,000 in state funding to create a development plan for the property, which would house SJSU faculty, staff, graduate students and students with families. It is scheduled to open in 2025.
Another student housing project a block from campus, The Mark, is planned by developer Urban Catalyst. The 23-story, 222-apartment project will include up to 1,000 beds for students. Of the 222 apartments, either 120 apartments will fall under rent-stabilization or 20% of the apartments will be deemed affordable. Joshua Burroughs, a partner at Urban Catalyst, said The Mark should be completed for the 2025 fall semester.
Myers-Lipton said as part of the Student Homeless Alliance negotiation with the university, students asked for 15% of any new housing project to be prioritized for previously homeless and low-income students.
During the 2021 fall semester, 297 students requested assistance from basic needs program SJSU Cares, with 18 asking more than once. Of these, 71.8% requested housing or homeless resources and 52.5% asked for financial help. Forty-two students received emergency grants of $1,069, 12 received emergency housing through the school’s emergency bed pilot program and 23 received housing through the school’s partnership with the Bill Wilson Center.
Majano said SJSU needs a program like the one at UC Berkeley, which reserves floors of buildings for low-income students to rent.
“A lot of these students who are working class, who oftentimes have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, are struggling,” he told San José Spotlight. “If we have much more affordable housing, these students can reduce their workload and focus more on their school load.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]