Cal Poly plans to build on-campus housing for faculty and staff

Cal Poly envisions a parcel on university land at the corner of Grand Avenue and Slack Street as the site for a proposed new housing development to provide workforce housing for its faculty and staff.
Cal Poly envisions a parcel on university land at the corner of Grand Avenue and Slack Street as the site for a proposed new housing development to provide workforce housing for its faculty and staff.

Cal Poly has announced plans to build up to 420 condo-style apartments to provide affordable housing for faculty and staff in a southeastern corner of the campus near the Grand Avenue entrance.

The project is designed to help recruit and retain employees faced with the high cost of housing in the San Luis Obispo area, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said.

“We need housing that our workforce can afford, that’s within walking distance of campus,” he said during a meeting with the Tribune editorial board Wednesday. “It’s a recruitment issue.”

The development would be a partnership between the university and a private developer, built on 15 acres across from the Student Housing South dormitory being built at the corner of Slack Street and Grand Avenue.

Armstrong said the proposal is for a developer to build the project, with a density of 24 to 28 units per acre, and enter into a lease agreement with the university for the land that would generate revenue for Cal Poly.

The size and number of bedrooms in each unit is yet to be determined and would be decided, in part, through talks with focus groups. Cal Poly employees’ salary range, now from $1,989 to $12,552 monthly for full-time equivalent employees, will help determine the rental costs of the proposed new housing.

The apartments would be made available to non-Cal Poly employees if there wasn’t enough demand by faculty and staff, Armstrong said.

“I would love to see them open by 2019, but that may be ambitious,” he said.

The concept is in the early stages and must go through a significant planning process with the California State University Board of Trustees, including an approval to open the bidding process to partner with a developer. That request for approval to open the bidding could come as soon as the next couple of months.

“We will be providing nice, condo-style apartments open to workforce families and employees within walking distance of campus,” Armstrong said. “The demand is there. ... We’ll potentially be taking 400 or so cars off the streets because people won’t have to drive to work. Tenants will be within close range of the university’s child care center.”

“This will provide a buffer between the campus and the residential neighborhood,” Armstrong said.

Cal Poly officials met with city and county officials earlier this week to discuss their proposal.

County Supervisors Adam Hill and Debbie Arnold, San Luis Obispo Vice Mayor Dan Carpenter and San Luis Obispo Councilman Dan Rivoire are supporting the project proposal.

“A workforce housing development on Cal Poly land would accelerate progress toward more available housing in our community,” Carpenter said. “San Luis Obispo’s housing issue is complex and will take years to solve, but this project would make an immediate impact and provide much-needed housing for Cal Poly employees.”

San Luis Obispo Councilman John Ashbaugh, however, disagrees with Cal Poly’s approach. Ashbaugh said he believes more student housing should be built on campus and attempts should be made to direct purchases of more owner-occupied homes to new Cal Poly staff and faculty in city neighborhoods to add a “healthy mix of people of all ages.”

“I don’t believe that the proposal to build these new high-density apartments on the Cal Poly campus for faculty and staff is worthy of the city’s support,” Ashbaugh wrote in an email.

Armstrong said the university hopes to establish programs that offer incentives to Cal Poly staff for home purchases, possibly through help with a down payment on a low-interest loan. No university funding is available now for such a plan.

Armstrong said the university also envisions a public-private partnership for a new student dorm project to be built on the eastern side of campus, north of existing university housing. But the university’s plans to pursue that project aren’t ready yet.

Other CSU campuses with some form of public-private partnership development include Fresno, San Marcos, Channel Islands, Northridge, Bakersfield and Fullerton.

Armstrong pointed to the De Tolosa Ranch development off Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo as the style of homes he envisions for the faculty and staff apartments. Cal Poly can’t provide rental subsidies because it would be a special benefit to only a select group of employees, he said, so the rents would be kept affordable by the developer keeping construction costs down.

“They are intended for people who want to live closer to campus but can’t afford to do that,” Armstrong said.

Enrollment is expected to “remain steady” at just less than 21,000 for the “next few years,” he added, so the housing is aimed at meeting the needs of existing staff.

Armstrong said Cal Poly likely won’t pursue any development that offers home ownership, such as the 69-unit Bella Montaña project completed in 2007 at the corner of Highland Drive and Highway 1.

The university built those homes for sale to faculty and staff but the project faced difficulties with occupancy because of the recession and restrictions on how much a homeowner could resell the property for.

Armstrong said he hopes the Cal Poly Master Plan, which sets out a comprehensive plan for development on the campus, will be approved by CSU trustees in May 2017.